Yao, Disney celebrate Read to Achieve Program at All-Star center’s elementary school in Shanghai
Back to School for Yao

By John Hareas

SHANGHAI, China (Oct. 13, 2004) -- Yao Ming may be on “business” for his return visit to Shanghai for the NBA China Games but that didn’t prevent him from having at little fun before the big game on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Shanghai native returned to the site where his hopes, dreams and aspirations began as a child. A special place where he learned many valuable lessons, including an unforgettable one when he was only six years old about the importance of reading.

Yao Ming, David Stern and Ruth Riley in the background at Yao's former school in Shanghai.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
“I was given a little test for admission into the primary school and one of the questions asked was whether I knew when my birthday is,” said Yao to an enthusiastic group of first graders at his former school, Gao’an Road Primary School, which has since relocated a few blocks from the time Yao attended. “I said I didn’t know. Then the question was asked a different way: Do you know the exact date of your birth? Then I answered, ‘Oh, yes, it’s September 12, 1980.

“At that point I realized the importance of reading and I have never made the same mistake again and I don’t want you all to make the same mistake as I did.”

The afternoon was a basketball celebration extolling the joys of reading through the NBA’s Read to Achieve program, a league initiative that reaches an estimated 50 million children each year.

“Basketball is only one part of life and the most important part of life for us is education and the best way to get a good education and to develop yourself to the best possible limit is to read,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern, who also pointed out that throughout the United States, the various NBA teams have built more than 90 reading centers to encourage children and their families to develop a lifelong love of reading.

Bob Iger, President and COO of the Walt Disney Company, which is one of the program’s national partners, also spoke about the importance of reading as an educational tool as well as having high praise for the All-Star center and person.

“I know that Yao Ming is a big star and a wonderful human being here in China but he also represents the people of China extremely well in the United States where he is also a very big star and a great personality,” said Iger, whose company donated 1,000 books to the school.

Also on hand at the event were WNBA players Diana Taurasi, Ruth Riley, Yao’s Rocket teammate, Dikembe Mutombo and Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, many of whom participated in the read alouds with the students, turning pages of such stories as “Pooh’s Favorite Color,” “Poohsticks” and “The Sky at Pooh Corner.”

“It’s such a great event for Yao to come back and obviously the people are proud of him here and what he does to represent their country in the United States,” said Riley. “To bring a good message and encouraging children to read is one that you’re going to send worldwide.”

After the indoor event, which was highlighted by a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse, the scene shifted outside to the basketball court where Jin Guoxiang, the President of the Shanghai Administration of Sports, presented the school with two basketball hoops and also announced that the organization would name a foundation after Yao to help endow the school’s athletics department.

“Look at their eyes,” marveled Lanier referring to the kids who were hanging on to every one of Yao’s words during the presentation. “I see the same twinkle in the kids’ eyes in all of the countries we visit that the NBA touches with our Basketball Without Borders Program,” said Lanier. “Kids from South Africa, kids from Brazil, kids from the United States, this is what the NBA all about. It encourages kids to reach another level they can only dream of.”