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Wednesday August 17, 2011 1:07 PM

Letters To Yao


The Rockets say thank you to a face of the franchise

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - All-Star. Ambassador. Legend. Face of the franchise. Friend.

Yao Ming was all of those and so much more during a decade in which he made an indelible impact upon the Houston Rockets. Now, as he prepares to embark upon the next chapter of his life, the team pays tribute to this extraordinary player and person, sharing memories of the singular characteristics that make him so unique, while saying thank you for the experience of a lifetime.

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Dear Yao,

You're a very lucky man. You've got a beautiful wife and a beautiful young child. You have a home in Houston and in China. Everybody loves you and you've gained the respect of the whole world.

So while this is a sad day for me personally and for the Rockets organization as a whole, none of us should lose sight of the fact that we're all so much better off for having had you as part of our lives for the past decade.

You came to Houston as the No. 1 pick in the draft but you played as hard as if you were taken with the last pick in the second round. You practiced like you weren't sure whether or not you were even going to make the team. You worked so hard your whole career, you were always out there practicing and never once stopped trying to be a great player.

You elevated the franchise to a place of worldwide recognition. You're a person I'm very thrilled to have met; a wonderful guy with a great personality, smart, generous and caring. I'm so proud of what you accomplished here in Houston and I can't wait to see what the next chapter of your life has in store. On behalf of myself and Rockets fans around the world, thank you, Yao Ming, for being such a great basketball player and an even better person.

Leslie Alexander
Houston Rockets – Owner

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Dear Yao,

I'd like to start by thanking you for being big, being a center and being an All-Star. Coincidentally, those just so happen to be the three things the Rockets are missing the most right now. In other words, we need another you. Trouble is, there's never been anyone quite like you. And odds are there never will be.

Everybody always talks about your unselfishness and commitment to the team – those aspects of your character could never be overstated. When you got hurt in our second round series against the Lakers in 2009, you only ever seemed interested in everyone else. You were crushed because you felt like you let your teammates, Mr. Alexander and me down – which couldn't be further from the truth, by the way – all the while never once expressing any concern with your own personal and physical well being. But to me, that attitude and approach summed you up: some people talk team; you lived it.

Going forward, please know that even though you won't be on the court, I consider it my job to keep the culture you built intact. You led this team with your hard work, your humility and your humor, and those three things really define the culture you created here in Houston. You helped build something truly special, and it's of paramount importance to me to preserve that approach to ensure your legacy lives on.

Daryl Morey
Houston Rockets – General Manager

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Dear Yao,

This is really emotional for me. I want you to know that I thought you were the perfect person to make basketball a truly global game. Your dignity, your character and your humility made you absolutely one of a kind.

To come from such a different culture than our own and to do what you did is just remarkable. I marvel at the way you handled everything with such class. I don't know how many people could have done what you did and still be as great a player and a person as you are.

I can't commend your parents enough on the way they raised you. You're just so unselfish. You could have averaged 30 points per game in this league, but you were committed instead to being the perfect teammate and doing whatever you could to help the Rockets win games.

I feel like the saddest person in the world right now because there seems to be no justice; you should be coming into the prime of your career – remember, we didn't start winning championships with Hakeem Olajuwon until he was 31 – and it hurts me to know you won't get to be out on the court for what should be your best years. But please know that in terms of promoting our organization, promoting basketball, and promoting the NBA around the world, you were absolutely the best there could have been.

I still remember telling reporters during your first couple years in Houston – back when you still used an interpreter to interact with the media – that if they talked to you for just ten seconds they'd be a fan of yours for life. That's how impressive I knew you were even back then, and how much class and character and dignity you have. But you already know I'm one of your biggest fans.

When you told me about your decision to retire you wanted to make sure I wasn't mad at you. Please know that I just want you to be happy – that's what you deserve. And now that you have some free time, I'll make good on my promise to teach you how to play golf.

Thank you for letting me tag along for the adventure of a lifetime.

Carroll Dawson
Houston Rockets – Senior Consultant/General Manager 1996-2007

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Dear Yao,

You won't hear any condolences from me on the close of your playing career. The Yao I know would never accept them anyway, as you're stronger than anyone who might write you a letter. Instead, I just want to say thank you.

Thank you for the way you represented our organization and our city. Houston is forever in great company to be associated with you. Thank you, of course, for your dominant play on the floor, but more so, thank you for your influence on your teammates throughout the years. Your work ethic – relentless, focused, consistent – reset the bar for what it meant to work hard and be dedicated for so many players that came through the doors of our gym. Many people are trying to size up your legacy in the game at a time like this. To me, the ripple effect you began in the careers and lives of your teammates may ultimately have the most meaningful impact.

Lastly, thank you for the kindness you showed to all of us that worked beside you. Your success was hard earned by countless hours in the gym, in the weight room, and watching film, not to mention the incredible sacrifices made by the untold number of people that supported your development. I was but a tiny piece in that mosaic, but I am proud nonetheless. Proud to tell the generations to come that we crossed paths. Especially proud to describe the type of man I know you to be – dedicated, duty-bound, humble, gentle, and funny.

Today's news cycle seems infatuated with whether your career is Hall of Fame worthy. That would surely be an honor that would humble you over again and provide great satisfaction to celebrate enshrinement with your friends and family. I suspect that decision will prove simple in due time, both because their organization is led by reasonable folks and because your accomplishments on and off the floor warrant such an honor. Until then, please know this: no one that ever knew you needs a building in Massachusetts to remind us you're a mountain of a man. Thanks, Yao.

Sincerely,

Sam Hinkie
Houston Rockets – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations

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Dear Yao,

It is hard to believe that more than nine years have passed since we began working together. It is even harder still to realize that you will not be in the locker room when next season rolls around. I have many fond recollections of working with you over these past nine seasons, but the one thing that stands out more than anything is my admiration for the class and professionalism that you displayed on a daily basis during your time here in Houston. Despite the considerable weight of enormous – and sometimes unfair – expectations, you handled yourself with a rare level of dignity and composure which sets you apart from any of the hundreds of professional athletes I've worked with over my 17-year career.

I don't think I'll ever forget meeting with you and Colin Pine before our first big press conference the day you arrived in Houston. Knowing that Colin would be making his first-ever appearance as a translator at the press conference which would be shown live across the world, I can admit to you now that I was very nervous – and Colin was petrified. Although I'm sure you were as well, you never showed it. I also won't forget the next day, when I was asked to drive you to get your team physical, and on the way back to your home you asked if we could stop at a local electronics store so you could run in to get a few video games. We were both a bit naïve to believe you'd be able to "run in" without needing a police escort to get out of the store that day! I'm also pretty sure I'll never say the words "last question" during a media session again without thinking of how happy those words made you feel at the end of your very long daily interview sessions.

I have hundreds of stories about why I have enjoyed working with you over the years, but what truly impresses me is your genuine, unassuming nature and your sense of loyalty. I was floored when you came in before a December game that first year with a stack of signed holiday cards for all your teammates, coaches and team staff members. One of my fondest memories of you was from our first China Games trip in 2004 when a few of us found ourselves in a van going between events and you ended up conducting an impromptu tour of your old childhood neighborhood and school. It was a rare glimpse inside your world before you became the pride of China.

I could go on for a while longer, but I'll close by just saying that I really enjoyed working with you these past nine years. It was a wonderful experience getting an opportunity to help you navigate the various media situations that we found ourselves in and I hope you feel that I served you well during those times. I am fortunate to have worked beside you as a co-worker, but I have been even more privileged to call you my friend.

Continued good fortune in your next chapter in life, my friend.

Nelson Luis
Houston Rockets – Director of Media Relations

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Dear Yao,

It has been my pleasure to have worked with you for the past nine years. My first introduction to you was at the airport when you arrived from China. While we expected media and a few fans, we were shocked at the mass crowds that had assembled in the airport in anticipation of your arrival. Hundreds of people were on hand pushing and yelling, trying to get an autograph, photo or an interview. It seemed as though the moment you exited the plane, you were an instant global icon, with superstar star status at a level that I had not seen since being with the team.

As I think about the impact you've made on the game, in the community and throughout the world, I'm grateful that I have had the good fortune of knowing you personally and to witness firsthand how you've remained grounded while being placed on a pedestal by not only a nation, but the world. From the start you understood that because you had been given much you were obligated to give back. And as community relations director, I have watched you give time and time again – many times not wanting the credit or publicity that so often comes with that service. Your professionalism, kindness, willingness to give back and the manner in which you treat others around you should serve as an example to all of us.

Thanks for the memories, Yao. May God bless you, Li, Amy and your beautiful parents.

Sarah Joseph
Houston Rockets – Director of Community Relations

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Dear Yao,

I want people to realize just how much you cared about the Rockets and your teammates and coaches. Nothing stopped you from doing the best you could to get better for your team. I'll never forget you coming into the gym in a full-leg cast every morning, putting up shot after shot while sitting in a chair – that's something that will be forever engraved in my mind because there are players who don't come in to the shoot everyday when they're 100 percent healthy. But there you were, in a full cast, unable to walk, sitting down in that chair, shooting 250 shots per days for weeks all because you cared so much about keeping your rhythm, form and technique so that you could better help your team when you returned.

As you get ready to begin the next chapter of your life, I hope you understand the impact you had on people. I'll be telling Yao Ming stories for the rest of my career, telling them how you taught me what it means to be a professional and what it means to have the work ethic of a great player – no one put in more time and effort into being great than you did. So even though your basketball career is over, I know your impact will be seen in this game for years to come.

Last but not least, the way you carried yourself as a person off the court was an inspiration. Anyone who came in contact with you always left impressed. You were an All-Star who carried himself with great humility, setting such an extraordinary example for young players to follow. Thank you for blazing a path for all of us to follow.

Brett Gunning
Houston Rockets – Assistant Coach

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Dear Yao,

It's hard to believe this day has come. I still remember your very first year here in Houston when we made you take care of all the practice gear before every shootaround as part of your rookie duties. There you were, a 7-footer who was already an international star, walking down the halls of our hotels on the road, carrying each player's practice bag filled with equipment. You never griped about it; you knew there were certain things players have to do their rookie year, and you even made sure we kept the tradition alive going forward. You did what you had to do and made sure you had fun with it, too.

You're one of the best individuals I've ever been around. You have a big heart and a great sense of humor and it's been so great to have a guy like that. Our friendship went beyond basketball. You always asked me about my wife, I'd ask you about yours, and it was incredible to get to learn about each other's families, backgrounds and cultures.

I want to congratulate you on everything you've accomplished. It takes a big, big man to take on the responsibility and handle it the way you did. You did things your way, never giving less than 100 percent and always trying to do the right thing at every turn. Your character can never be questioned. You will be missed.

Anthony Nila
Houston Rockets – Equipment Manager

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