BEIJING: NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming called for “urgent” reform and said he was facing a multitude of problems as he was elected president of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) on Thursday.
The giant former Houston Rockets center, 36, arrives at the post as China searches for new superstars and more glory days for its national team, which has largely stalled since his retirement in 2011.
Yao, the first league head not drawn from government ranks, has long advocated reform of how basketball is run in his country, which has failed to produce anyone close to his caliber.
“At the moment, the most urgent matter is the reform of the CBA, which we must set on a virtuous cycle that will increase our influence and vitality, and bring new ideas to the fore,” he told a news conference in Beijing.
“The biggest problem is that there is no ‘biggest problem’. The problems are everywhere. I believe this is a common thing to encounter in the process of reform.”
He did not give specifics.
Yao was quoted by Chinese media as earlier telling the CBA he would work in the spirit of an official push by Communist Party authorities to reform China’s sports management, part of an effort to transform the country into a sporting superpower.
Yao has previously advocated change “with the ultimate goal of improving the level of the national team”, while not relying excessively on importing foreign talent to China’s league.
He has also called for enhancing the fan experience in what is rated as China’s most popular sport.
China’s ‘Great Wall’
Now an investor in his former team Shanghai Sharks, whom he led to the Chinese title in 2002 before packing his bags for the NBA, Yao indicated he would dispose of his share in the club in light of his CBA appointment.
The 7-foot-6 (2.29m) Yao towers over basketball in China after his a ground-breaking eight-season NBA career, in which he become a popular global ambassador for the sport.
Chinese fans began to dream of glory in the early 2000s when Yao partnered with fellow 7-footers Mengke Bateer and Wang Zhizhi to form China’s basketball “Great Wall”.
Yao led the team to three straight FIBA Asian championships in the 2000s, but the national team has only won the title twice over the past decade, including the latest edition in 2015, and has consistently struggled in Olympic competition.
They are currently ranked 14th in the world.
Yao was the NBA’s first overall draft selection in 2002 and the first player drafted number one who didn’t play collegiately in the United States.
He has continued promoting the game after he was forced into retirement in 2011 by repeated foot injuries.
With an estimated 300 million fans, China is the biggest market for the NBA outside the US.
Yet while spectators abound, world-class Chinese players are few.
Experts say that is due to a lack of casual, grassroots sport in a society where young people are pressured to focus on studies.