The Rockets remain popular, Shoemaker said, and three of their games will be televised on Chinese Central Television, the nation’s state-run international broadcaster, during the Chinese New Year celebration.
It helps that the team currently boasts Jeremy Lin, a Taiwanese American, and an all-star guard in James Harden.
Yao has formed a relationship with Lin — though he said he tries not to bother him during the season — and believes the 23-year-old guard who spawned Linsanity last season with the New York Knicks is in the perfect environment to develop in Houston.
“I was there, first 10 games, didn’t play well and they continued to encourage me and they tried to help me to fit into the NBA, instead of trying to judge me a good or bad player. I remember that,” Yao said of his time with the Rockets. “Jeremy, of course, people expect that he repeat what he did in New York last year. Under that circumstance, he still consistently helps the team and I’m very impressed with what he did.”
Yao added that Lin shouldn’t feel any added pressure. “He played in New York last year. What kind of pressure can compare to the Big Apple?”
Several former NBA all-stars, including Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady and Arenas, have extended their careers in the CBA. Arenas, a three-time all-star with the Wizards, signed with the Sharks last November and Yao praised the work ethic of his former competitive peer, though injuries have sidelined Arenas for much of the season and contributed to the Sharks’ poor record.
“Gilbert is a very nice person. You know they have a word for people, they say, ‘workaholic.’ He’s probably like a ‘playholic.’ He loves to play basketball,” Yao said. “Only thing in his mind is basketball. He plays the game and practice all day long. Unfortunately, he has some injury problem. The few games he played, he showed what it means to be an all-star. Even though he is a former all-star, he’s still at a different level.”
Yao was elected to eight consecutive all-star games but the ballot no longer has a separate box for centers.
“I feel sorry for the big guys,” Yao said, while mentioning Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and former Georgetown star Roy Hibbert. “But if you’re looking through the history of basketball, the rule is always about limiting the power from the big man. Not the strongest survive, but the fittest. We have to make an adjustment to fit in those rules.”
Yao mentioned the three-point line and zone defenses, among other changes, for diminishing centers. He then asked: “What is a big man right now? Usually you talk a 7-footer or 6-10 and above around the paint. But now, all those 6-10, 6-11 guys like Kevin Durant, they play small forward; they play point guard.”
But even with all of the changes within the league since he departed, Yao plays down the impact of his absence.
“The NBA survived before me,” he said. “I think the league will survive again after I leave.”