Blocking the Sun
Frost Heaves handle Maryland's 7-foot-9 Ming Ming
Posted: Sunday February 18, 2007 1:12PM; Updated: Sunday February 18, 2007 1:12PM
A record snowfall -- never before have as many as 25 inches fallen in Burlington, Vt., in a 24-hour period -- led my ABA team, the Vermont Frost Heaves, to postpone our game with the Maryland Nighthawks last Thursday. The decision didn't follow only from prudence, though a snow emergency still had the streets around Memorial Auditorium choked with heaps of the white stuff, and we certainly didn't want our opponents to hurry their bus ride up from the mid-Atlantic in hazardous conditions. By carrying the game over a day, we bridged it to a walkup-friendly Friday night, and got another news cycle of promotion out of the player Maryland had somehow folded into that bus.
The player? Sun Ming Ming of China, at 7-foot-9 not merely the tallest basketball player in history, but also the second-loftiest human being known to exist.
We hurried ads into production: "Got cabin fever? We've got the cure. Seven feet, nine inches of it." Radio stations added another mention of Sun to their litanies of closings, cancellations and postponements. And a crowd we sure enough drew.
Nearly 1,200 people filed into Memorial on Friday to watch Sun mess with our heads. Our stats program spits out a figure along the lines of hockey's plus-minus, and it showed Maryland plus-11 when the big fella was in the game. Even our open 3-pointers seemed to be launched from cramped quarters.
Sun doesn't have a bad touch -- he went 3-for-4 at the free-throw line. To be sure, he's foul prone, gets winded easily, and changes direction with the suddenness of a cruise ship. But our 6-foot-10 center Antoine Hyman, whose jaw took a couple of Ming dings, thinks Sun, who's 23, has a shot at the Show. So does our coach, Will Voigt, who moonlights as an overseas scout for the Spurs.
Fortunately we were able to rule the opened-up floor during Sun's long stretches on the bench, and claimed a 113-104 victory, our 12th in 13 outings, which left us 24-4. The Nighthawks departed the next morning for a game at Quebec City, leaving Sun in a specially accommodated room at the Vermont Maple Inn in Colchester. He's not properly papered up to go to Canada, so the Nighthawks fetched him on their way back through Vermont on Sunday.
On Saturday, one of our assistant coaches, Wayne Lafley, took Sun to the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington to get him a little gym time. They worked on keeping his hands up. Wayne found Sun to be a delight -- eager to learn, quick with a smile, and in command of just enough English to give play to an ironic sense of humor.
It was good to learn more about Sun, for instance, that he has had two operations to remove a pituitary tumor that imperiled his life, even as it helped account for his size; and that if he's a bit rusty, it's because he's been busy filming scenes as an extra in a Jackie Chan movie. For me, that kind of human interaction took the freak-show edge off his visit to Vermont.
And what's this about guys named Ming-Yao, Sun and (perhaps) otherwise? Could it be ... one Ming, and a guy's 7-foot-5. Two, and he's 7-foot-9. Somewhere out there, there must be a guy named Ming Ming Ming who's 8-foot tall.