• Print

Rookie center obtains his driver’s license

Yao Ming poses in front of his new ride after driving to Compaq Center for a gameday shootaround.
Trevor Mitchell/Rockets photo
by: Trevor Mitchell, rockets.com

Everything is big in Texas, but how often does one think about Texas drivers being bigger than normal? Well that will soon change now that the average height of the Lone Star State’s licensed drivers just grew a tad bit larger. Houston Rockets 7-6 rookie Yao Ming successfully obtained his Texas driver’s license last month and is very excited to join Houston’s enormous metro traffic population.

After being selected with the first overall draft pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, Yao came to Houston from China last October not knowing what to expect. With the help of his parents and his translator Colin Pine, the gentle giant has adjusted quite well to life in America. Yao has been tremendous both on and off the court. He has handled the media and his preseason critics with patience and grace while putting together a fine rookie campaign on the hardwood that has elevated him to frontrunner status for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

Wanting to acquire his driver’s license was just another step that Yao was eager to achieve.

“That was Yao’s big thing ever since he got here,” said Pine. “He wanted to learn how to drive and have his own car. It was just tough to find time to do it because of all of the games, road trips and practices. When Yao is not playing, he likes to rest.”

When Yao did find the time he studied extremely hard for his driving test. His mother had already taken the test and passed, so she was able to help him out with a few of the road rules. To help ensure Yao would be ready, Pine took the rookie center out numerous times to work on his driving skills by driving around the neighborhood and sometimes in the parking lot of the Rockets practice facility.

“We took a lot of time to make sure he was ready," Pine said. "There were some bumps in the road because it took him a little while to get used to it. However, once he went to take the test he was nervous, but everything went real smoothly. He passed it pretty easily. With his size it’s more difficult doing certain things. It’s tough to see if he gets right up on a red light, then he has to duck down and look."

Yao’s first official trip as a licensed driver came when the prized rookie drove home immediately after obtaining his license. Yao, who once said teammate Steve Francis’ black H2 Hummer “looked like a tank,” prefers to get around Houston in his gray 2003 Toyota Sequoia. Although Yao’s SUV does not have any custom features to accommodate his 7-6 frame, it is just big enough for him not to look cramped up. Yao spent his first weeks in Houston getting chauffeured around by Pine in a rented Chrysler 300M, so the Sequoia is definitely an upgrade.

“The car he has now I think he bought more for his parents,” said Pine. “Eventually he really will need to have a special car that’s made for him.”

A special car indeed, is exactly what the Rockets center has on his mind. While Pine mentioned that the rookie’s dream car is a Mercedes Benz, Yao has his heart set on something a little more unique.

“I really want to get the James Bond 007 BMW that has all the special features,” joked Yao.

While Yao may not be able to get that particular vehicle legalized for driving in the U.S., it is not as if he needs a speedy automobile anyhow.

“Now that he has his license, Yao wants to drive every chance he can get,” claimed Pine. “He’s very comfortable now, but there are still some things he needs to get used to. He tends to drive on the slow side, very defensive and conservative.”

“That’s why I like driving alone,” said Yao. "Driving with the music on and the breeze blowing through the window."

“At least he’s not a backseat driver,” said a smiling Pine. “He hasn’t reached that point yet, but you never know."