Five possibly pertinent points about Yao Ming, while waiting for the Rockets’ center’s left big toe to heal, as related by Brook Larmer in his excellent Operation Yao Ming:
1. Yao was the product of a marriage arranged by Shanghai sports officials who wanted two of the tallest basketball players in the nation to produce a giant who could help give China an edge in international competition (pages 39-41).
2. Yao’s mother, Fang Fengdi (Da Feng, who now lives in the Houston area with Yao’s dad), was a gung-ho member of the Red Guard during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and as such was part of cadre that imprisoned a former top sports official and “some three other dozen top coaches and administrators in makeshift jails” in a Shanghai sports center. “At night the young captors took turns harassing and haranguing their former bosses to keep them from sleeping. During the day they forced the haggard leaders to read Mao’s works or write ‘self criticism’ confessing to crimes ranging from having relatives living abroad or not showing enough enthusiasm while singing the final chorus of The Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points of Attention.” (page 29)
3. “Most Chinese sports teams rely heavily on secret homegrown brews that have passed down generation to generation …. [some] remain resolutely foreign, such as the tonic made of dog’s kidneys or the popular liquid elixir brewed from seal’s penis and testes.” (page 89)
4. “… the ‘caterpillar fungus,’ the rare, grass-like growth found on the carcasses of dead moths and caterpillars high in the Tibetan mountains … is a licorice-tasting respiratory tonic that is supposedly 50 times more powerful than ginseng. In the 1990s it became one of the elixirs fueling … Yao Ming.” (page 102)
5. “Yao’s passivity [on the court in the NBA] wasn’t simply a function of personality, but also of the insulated atmosphere in which he had been raised. Being an athlete in China, Yao explained, was ‘like being a plant growing in a greenhouse.’ The Chinese sports system may have helped him to develop his skills, but it shielded him from the kind of harsh, competitive forces that most other athletes around the world face everyday.” (page 315)