SI.com 2003 NBA All-Star 2003 NBA All-Star


Growing pains

Yao held to two points, two boards in first All-Star Game

Posted: Sunday February 09, 2003 11:59 PM
Updated: Monday February 10, 2003 3:07 AM
  Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming Fundamentally sound Yao Ming was out of his element in the playground atmosphere of the All-Star Game. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- Yao Ming has seemed comfortable most of his rookie season, showing composure on and off the court.

His first All-Star Game might have gotten to him, though.

Voted a starter for the Western Conference, Yao had only two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes, sitting out the fourth quarter and both overtimes Sunday night.

"I just sit back and enjoy the game, because the whole game, for me, is a fun place," Yao said through a translator.

Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were the big men who got most of the playing time down the stretch as the West beat the East 155-145 in double overtime.

"I was going to see how the game went, if I was going to bring him back or not, basically," West coach Rick Adelman said. "It was just a situation, we got down eight points or something and looked like it was over with and then we caught them."

Yao, picked No. 1 overall by the Houston Rockets in last year's draft, became the first rookie to start in the All-Star Game since Grant Hill in 1995. His selection was helped by ballots printed in Mandarin for the first time; he outpolled O'Neal by nearly a quarter-million votes, even though Shaq averages nearly 27 points a game and Yao just 13.

But the 7-foot-5 Yao rarely looked to shoot when he had the ball, making his only attempt. His lone basket was a dunk 65 seconds into the game after an alley-oop pass from Houston teammate Steve Francis.

"It's got to be really overwhelming for him," Adelman said of Yao. "His first experience like this and the attention that he garners, you've got to give the young man tremendous credit.

"I think he handles everything so well."

Yao's highlight of the night might have been winning the opening tip from Ben Wallace, finally stepping into the circle after fellow West starters Duncan and Garnett prodded him.

"He was trying to get one of us to jump for him and we were trying to convince him that he was 7-8 and he could win the tap," Duncan quipped. "So it went back and forth for a little while."

Yao did wear a pair of powder blue low-top shoes, a tribute to Michael Jordan's alma mater, North Carolina. The brightly colored shoes clashed with the red uniform of the West, but Jordan was making his final All-Star appearance.

"I really enjoyed the moment, and it kind of relaxed me because he has already achieved everything in basketball, so there is no regret," Yao said of Jordan. "Therefore, when he says goodbye to basketball, it should not be very difficult."

Then again, this game might not be the ideal venue for Yao. A fundamentally sound player whose shooting range extends to the perimeter, he probably was out of his element with all the can-you-top-this shenanigans from the rest of the All-Stars.

He also might be drained by the NBA schedule, where teams routinely play on consecutive nights. The physical style of play has been another tough adjustment for Yao. Although he weighs nearly 300 pounds, he doesn't have a thick upper body like O'Neal or Wallace.

Yao is shooting 53 percent from the field and 77 percent from the foul line, helping the Rockets keep pace in the playoff chase.

"He's going to be a great player because he's already a very good player," Adelman said. "I marvel at the way he handles attention that he gets and the level of composure that he maintains."

Yao's former teammates with the Shanghai Sharks were watching the telecast in China, where the game started at about 9 a.m. Monday morning. He joined Houston after the team reached an agreement with the Sharks and Chinese officials.

His quiet performance in the All-Star game probably won't affect his popularity. A horde of cameras followed him everywhere he went this weekend, and he was part of the postgame news conference.

"In the last three days, it was like a carousel," Yao said. "It has been turning round and around all the time."

What was the best part?

"That I only had one practice," he joked.

Yao was the 16th rookie in NBA history to start in the All-Star game, and the sixth center -- joining O'Neal in 1993, Elvin Hayes in 1969, Walt Bellamy in 1962, Wilt Chamberlain in 1960 and Ray Felix in 1954.

 
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