Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Super star

Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Super star

4.1 8
by Brook Larmer
     
 

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The riveting story behind NBA giant Yao Ming, the ruthless Chinese sports machine that created him, and the East-West struggle over China’s most famous son.

The NBA’s 7‘6" All-Star Yao Ming has changed the face of basketball, revitalizing a league desperate for a new hero while becoming a multimillionaire pitchman for Reebok and

Overview

The riveting story behind NBA giant Yao Ming, the ruthless Chinese sports machine that created him, and the East-West struggle over China’s most famous son.

The NBA’s 7‘6" All-Star Yao Ming has changed the face of basketball, revitalizing a league desperate for a new hero while becoming a multimillionaire pitchman for Reebok and McDonald’s. But his journey to America—like that of his forgotten foil, 7‘1" Wang Zhizhi—began long before he set foot on the world’s brightest athletic stage.

Operation Yao Ming opens with the story of the two boys’ parents, basketball players brought together by Chinese officials intent on creating a generation of athletes who could bring glory to their resurgent motherland. Their children would have no more freedom to choose their fates. By age thirteen, Yao was pulled out of sports school to join the Shanghai Sharks pro team, following in the footsteps of Wang, then the star of the People’s Liberation Army team. Rumors of the pair of Chinese giants soon attracted the NBA and American sports companies, all eager to tap a market of 1.3 billion consumers.

In suspenseful scenes, journalist Brook Larmer details the backroom maneuverings that brought China’s first players to the NBA. Drawing on years of firsthand reporting, Larmer uncovers the disturbing truth behind China’s drive to produce Olympic champions, while also taking readers behind the scenes of America’s multibillion-dollar sports empire. Caught in the middle are two young men—one will become a mega-rich superstar and hero to millions, the other a struggling athlete rejected by his homeland yet lost in America.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The 7'5" Yao Ming didn't get where he is today because of some lucky genes and a good three-point shot. Everything about him, from birth to first endorsement deal, was planned by a confluence of government and business interests intent on creating a superstar. Basketball has been popular in China since the late 19th century, so a government with a Soviet-style, militaristic sports system intent on creating world-class athletes thought little of mating its tallest athletes in an attempt to pass on their genes. Thus in 1980, Yao was born to the tallest couple in China, the result of matchmaking that carried with it the dark shadow of eugenics. From there, a government campaign worked to turn "a boy with an ideal genetic makeup into the best basketball player in Chinese history," writes Larmer, and it wasn't long before Nike and the NBA had their hooks in him. Larmer, Newsweek's former Shanghai bureau chief, crafts his narrative well, explaining the byzantine interests competing for their pound of Yao's flesh with admirable simplicity. Yao's story is so controlled that when he finally overcomes his initial clumsiness and starts rebelling against his government at book's end, it's hard not to feel empathy for the gentle giant. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book is much more than a conventional sports biography because the story of how Yao Ming came to the NBA is unique. Larmer, formerly Shanghai bureau chief for Newsweek, explains that Yao was literally bred to be a basketball player. Both his parents were unusually tall, prominent basketball players, brought together by Chinese government officials in a clear example of state-assisted planned parenthood. As Yao grew in size and basketball ability, he attracted much attention and became something of a global trade commodity. Yao can even be seen as a metaphor for China's rapidly expanding position in world markets. The complicated negotiations involving the Chinese government, Chinese sports officials, sports agents, national shoe companies, the NBA, and the Houston Rockets are recounted here in detail. Throughout, Larmer contrasts Yao's success with the difficulties faced by the less-focused Wang Zhizhi, a Chinese basketball star born three years before Yao. Wang failed in the NBA and was not the "good soldier" of mainland China that Yao has been. The contrast reveals the desires and intentions of China's government, American business, and American professional sports. Recommended for all libraries.-John Maxymuk, Robeson Lib., Rutgers Univ., Camden, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Newsweek's Shanghai bureau chief tells dynamically the story of two Chinese basketball stars who made their ways to the NBA through the thickets of Middle Kingdom politics. By the mid-1980s, writes Larmer, sports was a critical resource for the Chinese government. Unlike the wholesale revamping of the country's economy, athletics provided a fast track to the global stage, raising China's stature and projecting a sense of national ambition. As the rest of the country careened down the capitalist path, sports prodigies were viewed in the old Maoist way as state assets, destined to live and work for the glory of the motherland. Two of the most valuable were Wang Zhizhi and Yao Ming, both over seven feet tall, who between them revitalized Chinese basketball. Larmer begins with a short recounting of recent Chinese history, mainly as it affected the families of the ballplayers, and a sketch of the character of China's sports establishment: long on duty and stoicism, short on fun, exemplified by the credo that athletes must learn to "eat bitterness." He then turns to the gathering confrontation between the elephantine Chinese bureaucracy and global capitalism, in which sports plays a conspicuous role. When America came calling for its basketball stars, China was reluctant to lose complete control over Wang and Yao by letting them play in the NBA. Authorities eventually agreed in hopes of currying U.S. support for the 2008 Olympics bid by Beijing. Wang ultimately crashed and burned in both the U.S. and China; Yao moved on to stardom, still playing for his Chinese team in the NBA off-season. The NBA was tickled to have a bridge to the vast Chinese market; Nike thought it had one in Yao, nurturinghis development for six years before blowing it by alienating his mother and her trusted Chinese-American confidant. A Byzantine tale of sports, commerce and politics, nimbly shuffled by the astute journalist Larmer.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101216613
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/03/2005
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
860,032
File size:
539 KB
Age Range:
14 Years

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Spence
A moving tale of the heartaches and rewards of life at the topmost levels of professional basketball in China... (author of The Search for Modern China)
Walter Isaacson
...A poignant personal adventure acted out on a global stage. (author of Ben Franklin: An American Life and Kissinger: A Biography)
David Ignatius
...Offers a window on the Communist cult that swept Mao's China, and the capitalist cult that has replaced it. (columnist for The Washington Post)

Meet the Author

Brook Larmer was the Newsweek bureau chief in Buenos Aires, Miami, Hong Kong, and most recently Shanghai. Operation Yao Ming is his first book.

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