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Skill and Humility: He's Ming the Miraculous

March 02, 2003|Barbara Barker | Newsday

What is the best thing you could do for the future of the NBA? Force every aspiring professional player -- from Division I stars right down to the sixth man on your local CYO team -- to watch Yao Ming as much as possible this season.

"The guy is what our league, as far as people, should be about," said TNT analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the former New York Knick coach. "Everyone in the game from youth teams on up can learn a lot from the way he approaches the game with both enthusiasm and humility.

"He's a very good player who's come in with more hype than any rookie in a long, long time. And he's lived up to it and surpassed it because of his unbelievable demeanor."

Yes, you can make a good case that the Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire should be rookie of the year. But the story of the year, perhaps the decade, is Yao. The 7-foot-5 center has the potential to change the culture in the NBA in more ways than one. It's not just the fact that Yao has expanded the NBA's fan base by nearly a billion people that makes him an important newcomer. It's that he brings a refreshing attitude to a game that has become mired in swagger and chest-thumping.

Yao has made it hip to be humble. No one in the history of the NBA has had to face what he had to face this season -- new league, new language, new culture, new rock star-like status -- and he has done it with unprecedented grace.

Listen to some comments made by Stoudemire and Yao after a mid-January meeting and then decide whom you'd like your kid to be like.

Stoudemire on Yao: "He's tall. He's got some low-post moves. I mean, he's not a bad player. I think my game has developed a lot more."

Yao on Stoudemire: "It seems like he's played for several years already. If there aren't more players like Stoudemire in the future, I think I can last [in the NBA]."

It's this uncharacteristic modesty from a star player that has made Rudy Tomjanovich the envy of his coaching brethren. And Tomjanovich seems to know how good he has it.

"He's a joy to coach," the Rockets' coach said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think he'd be where he is today. He works incredibly hard. He just wants to learn, he wants to get better.... I really thought it was going to take him a couple of years to get to this point."

Said Van Gundy: "What's great is how he's handled every situation. After both great victories and disappointments, he's endeared himself to everyone. He's played with great enthusiasm and joy."

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