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Saturday, July 09, 2011

Goodbye, Yao Ming

Yao Ming

Aside from the Bersih Rally, another big news I got this morning that sort of sadden me a little was NBA Superstar Yao Ming's retirement. He's 30, went through some bad injuries 3 years ago, I kinda knew it was the end then.

I've mentioned this many times, but I'm a lifelong NBA fan, having been watching it ever since I was 8-9, during Jordan's first 3-peat. Still following it religiously today. It's funny that I almost never really made any references to my own NBA love during the 7 years (!!) of this blog's existence. Well, aside from mentioning the Dallas Mavericks' championship in the last sentence of my Shunji Iwai-Tan Chui Mui video conversation at the Shanghai Film Fest post.

I was following the NBA Finals when I was in Shanghai. During the deciding game, I was at the Shanghai Film Fest Market. I was so desperate to know about the results (there weren't wi-fi in the building, iPhone became useless) that I headed to one of their public PCs to check the results, it was how I knew that Dallas Mavericks had won.

While I was doing that, a couple of Chinese guys started gathering behind me.

"Aha, the Mavericks won." One guy said.

"Dirk got the Finals MVP! He played so well this series!" Another guy said.

I turned around and nodded. "Hell yeah! I was worried Miami Heat would win this game."

"Guess you're not a fan of Lebron?" The guy said.

"Naw dude, not after The Decision." I said.

To be able to bond for a few minutes with a couple of strangers in China about the NBA, we really only have Yao Ming to thank for that. Yao Ming's not the first Chinese basketball player in the NBA, but he was definitely a global ambassador who brought the NBA to China and the rest of Asia. His face was everywhere, his ads. Even my MOM knew who he was.

I was in Shanghai back in 2005 for a family vacation, bought a magazine because Yao Ming was in the cover, then it turned out to be a lifestyle magazine, I gave it to my mom instead.

Over the years, especially the past two years, a number of NBA players I've liked are gone. It's a changing of the guard. I didn't write much about Allen Iverson's departure from the NBA last year, even though for most of the previous decade, he was my favourite player. Probably too in shock with the circumstances of his exit. This year, both Shaquille O' Neal (we share the same birthdays!) and Yao Ming are leaving the stage, which left me a little introspective. I guess it's probably because it signifies the end of something that were part of me for a long time.

It's a bit too tragic to ponder the 'what could have beens' and the 'what ifs', what if Yao Ming didn't get injured? What if he had lasted longer in the NBA? During his last healthy season, he was the best center in the league, his team was leading the LA Lakers at the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals. Then that injury happened.

I still remember watching the Beijing Olympics, it was my first ever summer in Tokyo. I find the summer of 2008 more memorable than the summers of 2009 or 2010. Yao Ming was the flagbearer for the Chinese team during that incredible opening ceremony. I remember watching the first basketball team between China and US too. Yao Ming has not fully recovered from his injuries, yet there was he, limping onto the court, scoring his country's first points.

Many blamed the Chinese system for pushing him to the point where his body finally betrayed him, that it was due to this that he never really had time to recover from his injuries. But he was doing this for his country, he had to be there to show how much he had served as a bridge between the East and the West, and between basketball's yesterdays and tomorrows. He would always be a forever figure to the sport.

I also remember too, watching his rookie year, that match between LA Lakers and Houston Rockets, Shaq vs Yao Ming. NBA Legend vs a rookie. The Rockets won, and I was cheering myself hoarse watching how Yao Ming stood his ground against Shaq.

I cannot really explain why it's so fun to follow sports. Sometimes, the sports transcends itself, becoming more than it really is. It brings many things together, unites different people. Perhaps football fans would understand it more, especially during the World Cup.

For me, enjoying the NBA is sadly, a very private thing, because there's really no one around me to share this with. It's like reading a really great novel for all my life, I can only mention it to passing to people, but it's really just for me. The ups and downs, the drama, the coming and leaving of players, the nostalgia, the mythologizing of things, there's just a peculiar little beauty about it that I find indescribable. It's like my love for films, maybe it's what I feel about life as well.