Making the Grades
2002 was a big year for a big athlete. As a 22-year-old, Yao Ming was the number one pick in the NBA. Drafted by the Houston Rockets, the 7'6" international basketball star made history as China's first player in the North American league.
In The Year of The Yao, filmmakers Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern document the rookie's transformation from Chinese sports hero to American superstar.
The former Shanghai resident's first year in Texas is a tumultuous one full of huge challenges. To help with the transition, Yao's agent hires an American translator named Colin Pine. Colin spends several months living with Yao and his parents, Yao Zhiyuan and Fengdi Fang (both former Chinese basketball players). He attends practices, sits behind the bench at every game, travels with the team and translates at all the press conferences. As well as driving the player, Colin helps acclimatize the newcomer to American culture, food and lifestyle. Through the tall and short of it, Yao and the 5'10", multilingual interpreter form a warm and comfortable friendship.
Their camaraderie is an oasis for the towering Asian who finds the pressure of his opening season immense. Despite his experience as a squad member on the Shanghai Sharks, the U.S. version of the game is more hard-hitting and less team oriented. Learning the new style of play takes time and patience for the modest player as does dealing with a horde of media hype surrounding his arrival. In addition to training and competitions, Yao is obliged to pose for cameras, commercials and magazine covers in an effort to feed the insatiable appetite of the North American marketing machine.
However, the locals aren't the only one scrambling for a glimpse of the soaring center. On the other side of the ocean, Yao is causing waves as Chinese fans watch his every move. Representing the 1.2 billion people of his homeland, the soft-spoken hoopster feels the weight of building a bridge between the two nations and having a positive impact on the game.
Basketball fans will likely be familiar with the story of the All-Star Rookie, but the film proves equally entertaining for b-ball novices as an entry-level introduction to China's friendly and humorous giant. With only mild profanities and some aggressive elbowing by a few of the sport's leading scorers, The Year of the Yao is appropriate for most family members.
But more than just lay-ups and jump balls, this film shows the incredible courage of a young man who pushes his limits as he faces an almost insurmountable task. Luckily, he brings the best of his skills, his personal character and ingrained values with him and shines both on and off the court.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Year of the Yao.
Professional athletes are often elevated to celebrity status. How does this affect the sport, the players and the fans? What is the difference between a celebrity and a hero? Can a person be both?
NBA Commissioner David Stern has been credited with saving the NBA by upping the entertainment aspect of the game and making media icons of the players. What evidence can you see of that action? Why would the NBA choose to tell this story?
How does Yao Ming deal with the pressure of performing? What responsibility does he feel to his fellow countrymen? In what ways does he affect those he meets in America?