By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent
Houston Rocket teammates, fans and staff showered NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming with love Friday night.
Yao’s jersey bearing the number 11 was permanently retired by the team, meaning no other player in Rocket history will ever use that number.
An enthusiastic crowd on hand interrupted the halftime ceremony numerous times with applause. Yao turned his head downward to compose himself,perhaps in at attempt to hide his tearing eyes, as he became overwhelmed with emotion.
Yao wished everyone a happy new year. He recalled his teammates gave him red envelopes on his first Chinese New Year overseas to make him feel at home. He says even today, he still has that two dollar bill he found in the envelope.
“Wherever I go, no matter how far I go, as long as I have those bills in my pocket, my home is with me,” he said.
He is only the sixth player in Rocket history to have his jersey number retired. The others are Hakeem Olajuwon (34), Moses Malone (24), Rudy Tomjanovich (45), Clyde Drexler (No. 22), and Calvin Murphy (23).
The Rocket made Yao the overall number one pick in the NBA before the 2002 season and the first player ever drafted from China.
Rocket broadcaster Bill Warrell called Yao a “global pioneer who opened a completely new world to the NBA.”
During his injury shortened eight-season career, the 7’6″ center averaged 19 points a game and more than 9 rebounds. He also shot 83% from the free throw line, an amazing accomplishment for a man of his height.
As one person pointed out, there was no “Hack a Yao” when he played. It was a reference to “Hack a Shaq,” a popular strategy of intentionally fouling a player who can’t shoot foul shots. It was named after Shaquille O’Neil, a notoriously bad free throw shooter.
It was Shaq who mocked Yao’s English before their first match up in 2003. Yao responded by scoring the Rockets first six points of the game and blocking Shaq’s shot twice in just the first few minutes of the game. Yao also had an emphatic slam dunk to seal the game in overtime.
“Thank you for making every coach, every player, every support staff, every fan that you came in contact with better,” said former teammate Shane Battier who was among those on hand for the ceremony. “You are a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.”
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander donated $100,000 to the Yao Ming Foundation for education and animal welfare programs. The team also presented Yao with a portrait of himself.
“This is a great moment in Rocket history to honor a man of such magnitude, said Alexander. “A Rocket bigger than life, a great great player, unfortunate his career was cut short. We would have won many more championships had he been around.”
Yao was genuinely touched by the tribute.
“This is not simply an award, but every time it is mentioned, your faces will be in my memory of my brain.”
AsAmNews is an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. You can show your support by liking our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/asamnews, following us on Twitter, sharing our stories, interning or joining our staff.