Yao Ming is definitely the biggest NBA player (pun intended) to ever come from Asia.
Yao was acquired by the Houston Rockets as the 1st pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. Before coming to the US, he played for his hometown team, the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), for a couple of years. Back then getting footage of players outside of the US was quite difficult unlike today when YouTube highlight reels for international prospects are a dime a dozen. Top it off with the fact that back then China was a big unknown when it came to having quality players who could make it in the NBA. Yao also didn’t know any English before leaving China for Houston. He started off by learning simple ‘basketball English’ for communication with his teammates but mostly relied on his translator, Colin Pine, in the early part of his NBA career. Despite the hurdles, Yao had himself an excellent NBA career that helped him become the icon that he is today.
In his nine years with the league, Yao earned roughly $93 million in salary alone. His biggest payday came in his last year for the Rockets where he made $17.6 million. He was then inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2016 after averaging 19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG throughout his storied career.
He helped build and maintains the bridge between China and the NBA today. He was also an activist against Asian stereotypes in his time with the league. While he doesn’t play anymore, basketball is still definitely rooted in the big man’s heart as he is also currently the chairman of the CBA, the biggest professional basketball league in China.
Yao Ming is ever present anywhere in the country as a top-tier endorser whether it was alongside Jackie Chan as a wildlife ambassador for pandas and China’s other local fauna or dunking Oreos in a glass of milk. You could see his face in airports, malls, and the television on a regular basis.
All of this helped build Yao Ming’s gigantic net worth of $120,000,000.
The big man also has a very soft spot for the little guys and gives back whenever he can. He set up the Yao Ming Foundation which helps improve schools and provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged children all over the country.
Yao is helping nurture the next generation of athletes for his country as well. In 2012, he launched youth leagues in 47 different schools. Then in 2016, he managed sports programs in up to 380 and his movement is growling larger by the day. Yao Ming is not going to stop dishing out the assists for education and sports in his beloved China anytime soon and it looks like he’s just getting started.