Yao Ming’s Exit: Globalization and All Its Possibilities | Special to NewBlackMan
Yao Ming is reportedly retiring from the NBA. A player of immense talent and potential, his career for some will be a disappointment. While debating his on-the-court successes, whether or not he is a hall-of-famer, and the large basketball significance are interesting, I think his retirement should elicit thought and reflection about the globalization of the NBA. His importance to the game, in global sports marketing, and in terms of larger social forces transcend the game and that has always been the case. In 2003, when Yao’s statistics were pedestrian at best, I wrote in Colorlines about the larger significance of his arrival to the NBA.
The star power of Yao Ming is not the result of his extraordinary stats for the Houston Rockets. He averages a respectable 13 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The flurry of magazine covers, billboards, and television commercials featuring Yao reflect the desires of American and Chinese companies to cash in on Yao’s popularity. Beyond the efforts to sell basketball to more than 2 billion Chinese nationals, the NBA hopes to capitalize on the sudden explosion in ticket sales to the Asian American market. Asian Americans buying group packages for Rockets games represent 11 percent of the buying public, 10 percent more than last year. In cities across America, Yao attracts fans to the Rockets’ away games to such an extent that a number of stadiums, in places like Detroit, Boston, and Oakland, have offered special “Asian American nights.” When the Rockets played the Golden State Warriors this spring, the Oakland arena announced parts of the game in Mandarin. Rockets’ coach Rudy Tomjanovich frequently boasts of Yao ‘s importance in bridging cultural and political gaps. In other words, Yao is presumably schooling America about Chinese culture and history.
Since 2003, Yao Ming’s economic, social, and cultural importance has increased tenfold. According to a 2007 study, 89 percent of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 54 were “aware of the NBA,” with 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 describing themselves as fans. More recent numbers show a game increasing in popularity, despite Yao’s diminished presence. On average, NBA games (despite being aired early in the morning) deliver 558,100 viewers; NBA.com/China generates roughly 12 million hits per day. A two billion dollar market, China has proven to be immensely important to the NBA’s global expansion and its overall financial success.