SHANGHAI — In a sport where 6’7″ is the average height of its players, one NBA player stood out among the rest: Yao Ming. Between 2002 and 2011, Yao left opposing teams in awe. Looking down on players from his 7’6″ stature and 310-pound frame, Yao Ming terrorized opponents for years with his fundamental footwork in the post, uncanny soft touch for a big man, and ability to defend the opposition, blocking shots with ease.
Drafted with the first overall pick by the Houston Rockets in 2002, Ming maintained a high level of production during his tenure in the NBA with a career average of 19.9 points per game, eight all-star appearances and an NBA Hall of Fame induction.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed Yao’s NBA career, forcing him to retire in his prime at the age of 30. However, Ming decided to use his retirement as a stepping stone into philanthropy. A colossal man in a game of giants transformed his basketball career into a series of charity efforts befitting a man of his size.
Since his early retirement, Ming has been active in participating in charity events. Some of his philanthropy accomplishments include a telethon he hosted in 2003 to reduce the spread of SARS and a 2007 charity basketball game he co-hosted with future hall-of-famer Steve Nash. The game was to raise money for charities in Beijing speaking out against the horrors of shark fin soup, which is responsible for the death of more than 70 million sharks each year.
Most notable of Yao Ming’s contributions is his founding of the Yao Ming Foundation in 2008, following the devastating earthquake that ravaged the Sichuan province of China. The 8.0 earthquake occurred on May 12, 2008, equivalent to the energy released from 790 nuclear bombs. The aftermath of the earthquake saw the destruction of 185 schools and 8,000 schoolrooms.
Since the earthquake, the Yao Ming Foundation has committed to rebuilding five schools in the earthquake region, providing education for more than 1,000 students. Ming himself visited Beichuan, one of the most impacted areas in the Sichuan region, spending time and playing basketball with the students whose schools were destroyed.
The Yao Ming Foundation successfully raised $3.7 million in relief within its first year of establishment. Since then, the Yao Ming Foundation has maintained an annual budget of $2.5 million. Also, Ming donated $2 million out of his own pocket to the Red Cross Society of China.
While the Yao Ming Foundation’s primary focus has been rebuilding schools in the Sichuan Region, it has implemented other projects. The foundation teaches basketball to children under the age of 13 with trained volunteers and coaches. The participating children are able to join basketball teams that compete for local and regional honors, which they previously were unable to participate in due to the lack of physical education programs.
However, the Yao Ming Foundation has not acted alone, partnering with The China Youth Development to distribute funds and facilitate rebuilding projects. The China Youth Development is one of the most successful nonprofit organizations, helping fund the construction of roughly 9,000 primary schools in poverty-stricken regions.
The Yao Ming Foundation has also drawn support from some of the most recognized names in basketball, including NBA players Greg Oden, Baron Davis, Steve Nash and WNBA legend Diana Taurasi. It also partners with the Houston Rockets Organization and Reebok.
In recent news, the Yao Ming Foundation has organized an exhibition game in Hong Kong on July 30, 2017. The exhibition match drew fans in China with players from various NBA teams including the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. All proceeds went to the Yao Ming Foundation, with prices ranging from HK$380 to courtside tickets at HK$7,800.
Yao Ming proves through his foundation that the size of his heart exceeds the bulk of his gigantic frame. He continues making improvements through the Yao Ming Foundation, with his website stating that his “thoughts and actions are now focused on helping to rebuild the schools that were destroyed in this tragedy and to rebuild them in the proper way.”
– Patrick Greeley