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Yao Ming Reveals Rockets Teammates Got His Name Wrong At First

Yao Ming Reveals Rockets Teammates Got His Name Wrong At First

yao ming sports illustrated cover 2003

Despite coming from a foreign country, Yao Ming quickly adjusted to American culture and got along very well with with players like Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley back when he was drafted in 2002. He’s now one of Houston Rockets’ greatest players and soon-to-be Hall of Famer.

But as it turns out, Yao’s adjustment wasn’t entirely easy. Heck, his players–and the rest of the world–have been calling him by the wrong name!

Yao shared in a lengthy article for The Players’ Tribune:

Steve [Francis] was the first person to greet me when I visited the arena. He walked across the locker room and gave me the hardest high five I’d ever felt. He put his entire body into it. You really could feel his muscle. My hand stung.

That was 14 years ago. Everything went so fast my rookie year, but I remember the first few weeks very clearly. You always remember first impressions. On that day, my coaches were showing me my new locker. I was so excited to see my name on my new Rockets jersey. That was a big thing for me because I had never had my name on a jersey before. There were a lot of big things that were different when I came to the NBA, but I remember the little things like that the most. For example, everyone called me “Yao” — they thought it was my first name. In China, our surnames come first and our given names last. To my Chinese friends, I was Ming. Now I was just Yao. Once everyone started saying it that way, I never corrected them. I was too shy.

In spite of this overlooked mistake, the Rockets clearly made an effort to make Yao (or Ming?) feel comfortable and even studied up on Chinese customs.

I didn’t know this at the time, but before I arrived, the Rockets had hired a Chinese professor from a local university to teach the team about Chinese customs. Everyone was so friendly and trying very hard to show me that they knew some things about Chinese culture. They showed me that they even knew little things, like how Chinese people hold a business card with two hands when we exchange it. I laugh when I think about it. At the time, all I wanted was for everyone to treat me the same as any other NBA player. But it was those small things that made me feel their warmth toward me.

And with that, we expect to hear good words for his teammates when he gives his speech in Springfield later this offseason.

Photo via Sports Illustrated

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