In a truly breathtaking display of magnanimity, the Houston Rockets are fining their star center Yao Ming for missing a media day and two days of practice in order to attend ... get this ... the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics in his native China. Brook Larmer wrote about the significance of Yao Ming in a cover story for FP's September/October 2005 issue. Yao's not just another basketball player. In the piece, Larmer stresses the extent to which China has invested its hopes and dreams in this "affable 7-foot, 6-inch giant". As Larmer puts it:
Millions of his compatriots, indifferent to his fate before, now celebrate him as a patriotic icon who smashes the stereotype of the weak and diminutive Chinese and shows how China can compete against the best in the world.... He alone among Chinese athletes is a global icon, famous both at home and abroad, an instantly recognizable embodiment of China's emergence in the world.
So this is the guy the Rockets want to fine more than $20,000 for missing a few practices? Where's the cost/benefit analysis? Barring Yao from promoting an event for mentally disabled athletes in the country where he is considered a hero seems beyond petty. At least when George Steinbrenner discouraged Yankee players from participating in the World Baseball Classic last year, there were legitimate fears of injury. Yi Jianlian should take note.