After championships are won and lost, the NBA, college and high school basketball lays its foundation in the summer months. With the draft, the AAU circuit and summer camps giving rise to new stars replacing the old â€” plus the world’s most-watched basketball tournament getting underway in Beijing â€” we give you this summer’s Players 2 Watch…
One day, Yao Ming played 36 seemingly harmless minutes in front of a national TV audience during a Houston Rockets’ win over the Chicago Bulls. The next day, it was announced that the 7-foot-5 All-Star would miss the rest of season with a stress fracture in his foot. It was at that moment that the whispers began: that Yao could have played out the string for a promising Houston squad with NBA title dreams, but he was â€“ either by his choice or someone else’s â€“ being held out to ensure he’d be healthy for the 2008 Beijing Olympics to play for Team China.
The severity of Yao’s injury is known only by Yao and his doctors, but the fact that it was even suggested he would tank a $13 million-a-year job to protect his body for volunteer work shows just how important these upcoming Olympic Games are for China and its most visible athlete.
Kicking off on August 8, 2008, the Games are Yao’s show. Literally and figuratively, he is the country’s biggest celebrity, and the face of a sport that has grown wildly popular in the Far East. Although China has dominated the FIBA Asia tournament over the years, the national squad hasn’t fared well in competition with the rest of the world; they finished eighth in the ’04 Olympics and 15th in the ’06 World Championships.
Since then, the national program has developed NBA talent like Yi Jianlian and ’07 draftee Sun Yue that will bolster Team China. But ultimately, when the eyes of the planet fix themselves on Beijing, it’ll be Yao Ming who’s expected to capture their attention.