China's NBA all-star center Yao Ming is once again in the domestic media spotlight as he finished training camp with the Houston Rockets and tipped off the preseason on Tuesday, just one day after he was listed as the richest sporting figure in China, according to the 2008 Hurun China Rich Report.
Yao ranked 987th with a personal wealth of 700 million yuan ($103 million). He earned $15 million from the 08-09 sports season, before advertising income, enough to make him the country's most wealthy sports person.
On court, the giant center grabbed just 10 points and nine rebounds, although the Rockets edged the Memphis Grizzlies 96-93.
Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley goes to the basket defended by Houston Rockets' Yao Ming during a preseason NBA basketball game on Tuesday in Houston. AP
The encouraging thing is Yao looked fully recovered from last season's stress fracture, moving well enough on one possession to get the rebound at one end and be the first player down the floor at the other end.
Even so, with the Grizzlies swarming around him, he struggled with his offensive game.
"I have not played a game with such high intensity for eight months," Yao said. "I did not adapt very well coming into the match, but I was much better after the third quarter."
Speaking of the hard-fought win over a less-fancied opponent, Yao said the team has to play more to improve.
"I am not satisfied with the team or myself. We could have played more aggressively. We still need time to work on team play."
He played the game's first 10 minutes, taking just one shot. The Grizzlies' Hakim Warrick blocked that attempt and Yao missed his first three shots in the third quarter, all jumpers, before getting his first field goal of the night on a jump hook in the paint with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter. He followed that with a spin move to a left-handed layup.
When he was through for the night after three quarters, he had 10 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.
"Anyway, it's just a first preseason match. We have time to deal with all the problems. We will play much better basketball match after this match."
For the Rockets, the most encouraging sign, perhaps, was the energetic and effective play of Carl Landry, the last player added to the Rockets roster when they matched the offer sheet he signed with the Charlotte Bobcats days before the start of training camp.
Landry led the Rockets with 18 points, making 7 of 12 shots in 23 minutes.
While much of his scoring was reminiscent of his mid-season run last season, with Landry finishing inside and often above the rim, he also hit four jumpers.
Based on the pivotal lineup from last season and with the major signing of Ron Artest, more can be expected in the new season from Houston, which has been unable to advance into the second round of the playoffs since Yao joined as the top pick in the 2002 draft.
Artest, who played for Rockets head coach Rick Adelman in Sacramento when Adelman was the Kings head coach, proved he has the ability to deliver more, as he gave the Rockets a much needed early offensive lift, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter.
Though making just one of five shots in the second half, four of 12 overall, Artest insisted he will improve and unite with the team soon.
"We still have a lot to learn and we're still learning things," Artest said. "That's why the exhibition season is good for us.
"You got to get ready for the season now. You have to get a chance, obviously, to know your teammates and see how they're going to play against other teams and see the rotations. That would be experimental. Everything else is trying to get ready for the season."
Yao gave credit to Artest in his debut for the Rockets, as well as another new face Brent Barry, an experienced guard from San Antonio Spurs.
"Artest knows very well the coach's system. He and Barry have the ability to get involved soon," Yao said. "Artest make our offense more effective while our guards could learn a lot from Barry's pass and move."
Another Chinese hoopster, Sun Yue, did not appear in the Los Angeles Lakers' opening preseason match list. Sun was sidelined indefinitely as a result of being tested positive for mononucleosis a week ago.
Sun became ill shortly after being officially introduced to the public on Sept 26 and was taken to an area hospital, said the Los Angeles Times, quoting John Black, the Lakers executive vice president of public relations.