Day by day, Yao Ming's confidence grows that his NBA career will resume, that he'll still have healthy, productive and happy years ahead.
Yes, he plans on spending those years with the Rockets. Yes, he'd love to have Chris Bosh as a teammate, but he thinks the Rockets are pretty good regardless. Finally, if anyone needs a diaper changed, Yao is the man to see.
What's that? You say you'd rather hear from the man himself? I was hoping you'd say that. What do you have for the people, Yao?
“Sorry, I've got to go right now and change a diaper,” he said.
Funny man, no? Fatherhood clearly agrees with him. Two weeks after he and his wife, Ye Li, celebrated the birth of a daughter, Yao said he's still getting plenty of sleep and so is his child.
“I think my daughter knows what I do,” he said, “so she's letting me get my rest.”
Yao was upbeat and in good humor Saturday afternoon during an appearance at the Chinese Community Center, where he put the ceremonial finishing touch on the first of four nature-based playgrounds built by his $100,000 donation.
Turning serious, he spoke of the work his foundation has done and why he thinks it's important.
“When we were growing up, there were a lot of people caring about us,” Yao said. “When we have success, we can't forget where we're from. We have to give something back. Today hopefully is a lesson for everybody — for me, for the kids, for their future. Hopefully in the future they can do the same things people did for them.”
Rosier summer than last
He arrived a couple of hours after completing his daily workout routine designed to test his surgically repaired left foot and get him back in NBA condition.
The Rockets are confident Yao will play again, but how much and how well are questions that won't be answered for months. General manager Daryl Morey's offseason mantra seems to be plan for the worst, hope for the best.
As for Yao, he's planning for the best.
“So far, so good,” he said, “and what I get from trainer Keith Jones and from (the doctors), they all feel good about my rehab.”
He's running hard on a treadmill and has begun running on the court and doing some shooting drills and post moves.
“We're increasing the workout intensity every week,” Yao said. “If I feel anything uncomfortable, I tell them to slow down a little bit. No rush.”
This optimism is a far cry from last summer, when there were days he feared his basketball career might be over.
“Yes, it scared me,” he said. “This time last year, we'd had a successful season and were looking to push forward, to more. That was a big shock for me, for us. Hopefully, everything's gone and I'm looking forward.”
The Rockets believe he may be limited to 20 to 25 minutes a game for the foreseeable future, perhaps for the rest of his career.
“That is a good question,” Yao said. “I think the doctor will give me a schedule. Of course at the beginning of the season, I will play less minutes. It depends on how you play and how the body reacts. Do you add more minutes or cut back down?”
Talented even sans Bosh
He was optimistic about the roster Morey has shaped with the additions of Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Trevor Ariza.
“I need to get myself into shape first; that's the first step,” Yao said. “When I'm healthy and everybody is healthy on this team, I think we have a good chance. We can see the talent we have. Aaron Brooks is very impressive. Trevor brought us a lot of intensity on the defensive side after Ron (Artest) moved to Los Angeles. Kyle (Lowry) is continuing to improve. All good things.”
Would he like to have Bosh, the team's No. 1 free-agent target, as a teammate?
“That would be good,” Yao said. “He's a very talented player. Smart. Athletic. He's one of top five people in this league. If he came to us, that would be a huge change for us.”
Do the Rockets need a major free-agent addition to contend for a championship?
“It would be good to have a major free agent on our team, of course,” he said. “To win a championship, you need talent, you need effort.”
Sees future in Houston
Yao declined to say anything of substance about possibly opting out of his contract and negotiating a new deal. But he made it clear his heart is still with the Rockets.
“First of all, when they had the player summit, I didn't get called,” he said.
Cue the laughter.
“I think my future is still in Houston,” he said. “I'm going to let my agent handle this. I think we will work this out.”
When the last question was asked and he was preparing to leave, someone said, “Thanks, Dad.”
Those words stopped Yao in his tracks.
“I'm not used to that call yet,” he said.