Yao Ming: "Ambassador" just my newest job

2013-02-16 07:54:07 GMT2013-02-16 15:54:07(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Former U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 7-foot-6-inch-tall star Yao Ming added on Friday a new job to his already-heavy roster of endeavors since retiring as a professional basketball player with the Houston Rockets.

The Houston Mayor's Office on Friday announced that Yao is a goodwill ambassador for the city of Houston, where he has a home and restaurant business in addition to his Shanghai hometown and ownership of the team where he played as a teenager, the Chinese Basketball Association's Shanghai Sharks.

It was the Houston Rockets that picked Yao Ming in the first draft in 2002 and he played professional basketball with that team and participated for China in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

His basketball career ended when foot, ankle and knee injuries forced him to retire in 2011 and concentrate the string of successful nonprofit and business enterprises.

"I hope to be remembered as a good person who did something in his hometowns of Shanghai and Houston to make things better," Yao Ming told about 50 people gathered at the Asia Society Texas Center on Friday before the announcement of his ambassadorship by Houston Mayor Annise Parker later the day.

Asia Society Texas guests were treated to samplings of Yao Family Wines, particularly a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon bottled the year Ming began that business in California, as the society's head Charles Foster described Yao as "a force of nature."

"He is a symbol for many Americans of United States and Chinese relations," Foster said.

To Yao Ming, he said, "You've made Houston a household word."

Foster described Yao Ming's activism on behalf of education and the environment, including the Yao Ming Foundation's work supporting the rebuilding of schools in China.

The foundation was created under the auspices of its partner, the China Youth Development Fund.

In addition to building 14 schools mainly in Western China so far, the foundation has recruited more than 50 volunteer university professors to help train teachers and coaches.

"We teach kids to play basketball and have other after-school programs," said Yao Ming. "It may surprise you, but a lot of Chinese don't know all about basketball."

He said that before coming to Houston, he imagined it as a city of astronauts and scientists that happened to have a basketball team. "I thought there must be a lot of scientists to put a man on the moon," he said.

In his post-Rockets life, Yao Ming is also known to speak out against killing shark for their fins, as is done to make shark-fin soup, Foster said.

Yao Ming was born in 1980 to tall parents who both played professional basketball, but he said he was never pressured to play.

He began playing basketball at the age of 9 years because he was drawn to the sport.

Of all the things Yao is involved in now, he said it is his family that is most important to him.

"I have a daughter. Everything takes a back seat to my family," he said. "My wife runs the house."

He said he's glad to have Houston and Shanghai as home bases.

"When I was in Houston, I missed Shanghai. When I'm in Shanghai, I miss Houston," he said.

Asked about the pressure of his injury-plagued last years with the Rockets, Ming was philosophical.

"My injury happened. I can't change it. I had to accept it," he said. "But when a door shuts, always a window opens."

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