Yao receives respectful but subdued greeting in hometown

Fran Blinebury

SHANGHAI — Times change.

When the Rockets played in the first NBA Global Games in China back in 2004, the experience was a case of Yao Ming Mania.

He was the No. 1 pick by Houston in the 2002 draft and he was No. 1 in the hearts and minds of every hometown fan as a native of Shanghai. Everywhere Yao went, he was greeted by shrieks and squeals of delight. Just the slightest glimpse of him caused a frenzy. He was the main attraction when the Rockets played the Kings.

Now a dozen seasons later and five years after his retirement, the introduction of Yao during the first timeout Sunday night at the sold-out Mercedes-Benz Arena was greeted by a warm, respectful, but subdued round of applause. No shrieking or squealing.

A recent inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last month, Yao sat in the front row at mid-court. He was joined by Mengke Bateer, who played with Yao on the Chinese national team and spent three seasons in the NBA with Denver, San Antonio and Toronto from 2002-2004.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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