Better get used to it, big guy. The first non-U.S. player to be picked No. 1 in the NBA draft, Yao has Rocket boosters dreaming of ticker tape parades, team officials drooling over his army of Chinese-American fans, and millions in China watching live broadcasts of Rockets games into the morning hours. Says Rockets CEO George Postolos: "One tall kid is doing more for relations with China than decades of other methods."
Yes, but can Yao negotiate the likes of Shaq? "He needs to eat a lot more to get strong," says his mother, Fengdi Fang, who is 6'2" and a former captain of the Chinese national women's basketball team (his father, Yao Zhiyuan, is 6'10" and also a former player). Even so, it's clear he's jot great skills. Despite a rough start, Yao scored 30 points against the rival Dallas Mavericks last month and leads the NBA in field goal shooting percentage.
Living with his parents in a four-bedroom Houston home (he sleeps corner to corner in a king-sized bed), Yao misses China but is making friends fast. "My team-mates are helping me with English phrases," he says with a giant grin, "just not the good phrases."