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Yao Ming: Soul Brother

Knowing others is to be clever.

Knowing yourself is to be enlightened.

Overcoming others requires force.

Overcoming yourself requires strength.

To know that you have enough is to be rich.

There is a time to breathe easy and a time to breathe hard.

There is a time to be vigorous and a time to be gentle.

There is a time to gather and a time to release.

Therefore, the True Person avoids extremes, self-indulgence, and extravagance.

- Lao-Tsu, the Old Master (founder of Taoism)

I had originally intended to title this article ”The Tao of Yao”, and began writing it in such a way to highlight the similarities of Taoist principles to Yao Ming’s character.  Little did I know, until now, that there already is a book written by Oliver Chin called ”The Tao of Yao”, that highlighted the similarities of Taoist principle to Yao Ming’s character.  Of course, Chin goes into much more depth than I would have, about the cultural differences between the East and West, highlighting the universal principles of leadership, and so-on and so-forth.  It is a nice philosophical piece on social and cultural analysis.  Not that I have read it.

So what should I do now?  I still want to write an article about Yao, just to add to the hundreds of articles written about him since his inception into the NBA, but what will be my angle?  What can I say, that hasn’t been said before?  Not to bloody much!  Well screw it - I ain’t changing my ship.  If you want to read the more researched, more poignant, and more eloquent depiction of the ”Tao of Yao”, you can pay your 20 bucks at a bookstore, to do so.  If you want to read a loosely researched piece, filled with spelling, grammatical, and perhaps factual errors, but is FREE FREE FREE, stay online, and revel in the transparent enlightenment, that is my insight, in this article - Yao Ming: Soul Brother.   

Tao (pronounced ’dow’) is translated into English as ’the path’ or ’the way’.  It refers to a power which envelopes, surrounds, and flows through all things.  The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance (Ying/Yang) in the universe to achieve total harmony.  To become one with the Tao is to achieve perfect harmony within yourself and with your environment.  Taoism was born in feudal China, out of the need to avoid constant warfare between tribes and other conflicts that disrupts society.  

So what does this has to do with Yao Ming?

In an era of continuing scandals from all ranks of organized sports, fans are hard pressed to find durable heroes.  For the past two seasons on and off the NBA courts, Yao Ming has carried himself with tremendous poise, humility, and honor, exemplifying Taoist principles of honor, nobility, and tranquility. 

Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river.   – Lao Tsu

Faced with enormous expectations upon his arrival, being the first foreign player to be selected first overall (by the Houston Rockets), being 7 foot 5 inches made Houston fans salivate at the prospect of a dominant big man the NBA hadn’t seen the likes off since Shaq entered the league 10 years ago, and of course, being Chinese – being the flagship of his billion-strong country, carrying their hopes of establishing a strong Chinese presence on an otherwise Chinese-less American sports market.  ’Huge’ is an understatement to describe the expectations of Yao, and this was all before he even played an NBA game.  Even esteemed NBA coach, Jeff Van Gundy, now Yao’s coach in Houston, commented, He’s not just a sports phenomenon, or a commercial phenomenon, he’s a social phenomenon. He could change China’s view of itself, and America’s view of China.

In true Taoist fashion, Yao responded, Respect is something you earn, not something someone gives to you.  What?  Where is the cockiness and arrogance that seem to be a prerequisite personality trait for NBA stars?   

And on it went as Yao won over teammates and opponents alike with his down-to-earth personality as much as his dependable performance during his rookie campaign.  In awe, ESPN The Magazine remarked that Yao’s refreshing attitude blows through the NBA like a blast of fresh air into a collapsed mine shaft.  

Revitalizing the ritual of the media interview, Yao often perplexed the press, Sometimes the hardest challenges are easier than the more difficult ones. Reporters snickered at his comments, but little did they know that Yao was keeping things in ’true’ perspective, something that they were not accustomed too in this results-driven, short-sighted Western professional sports culture.

In conflict it is better to be receptive than aggressive, better to retreat a foot than advance an inch.  This is called moving ahead without advancing, capturing the enemy without attacking him.  There is no greater misfortune than underestimating your opponent.  To underestimate your opponent is to forsake your three treasured.  When opposing forces are engaged in conflict, the one who fights with sorrow will triumph    -Lao Tzu

In a much-hyped matchup between Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers against Yao’s Houston led to some controversy.  Foreshadowing the game was Yao’s selection to start for the West’s All-Star team, supplanting Shaq, who was the perennial starting center prior to Yao.  Shaq stirred up some international attention over who deserved to be the All-Star game’s starting center.  A chastened Shaq still bragged that he was top dog as the ’Most Dominant Player’.  Who also said, Tell Yao Ming, ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.  With huge backlash from the Chinese community, Shaq said he was joking, not being a racist, when he used a mock Chinese accent while talking about Houston center Yao Ming.  He later apologized for his ignorant statements. 

And how did Yao respond?  There are a lot of difficulties in two different cultures understanding each other.  Especially two very large countries.  The world is getting smaller and I think it’s important to have a greater understanding of other cultures. I believe Shaquille O’Neal was joking but I think that a lot of Asian people don’t understand that kind of joke.  He continued in true Taoist humility, Chinese is hard to learn. I had trouble with it when I was little, Yao joked.

What is it like to feel Tao?  It is an effortless flowing, a sweeping momentum.

It is like bird song soaring and gliding over a vast landscape.        -Lao Tsu

Entering his third season, Yao has already established himself as a physical force to be reckoned with.  He is now partnered with talented and versatile Tracy McGrady, to give the Rockets a legitimate shot at the NBA championship.  He will undoubtedly improve his game, and his performance continues to attract new legions of fans to him, and the game of basketball.

But despite all his physical accomplishments, it is probably Yao’s humble behavior and attitude to himself and others that will form a large part of his certain rich legacy.

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