| Speaking in somewhat murky English about the potential of Yao Ming---the impossibly tall Chinese hoops phenom---his translator-cum-handler Ye Li boasted, "Yao will be better than Shaquille O'Neal, especially now in the free throw. If they bet steak for free throw, Shaquille O'Neal will invite Yao Ming every time."
Yao is nine-foot-something and apparently skilled, but let's be unnecessarily clear: Yao could wield a club, breath fire, inject deadly venom from his razor-sharp fangs, drink the blood of the living, and turn to stone all who look upon him---he can't stop the Diesel. The better question is, can he be a good impression of a bad Dirk Nowitzki? Or is he the Asian Dwayne Schintzus, a monolithic thing of prehistoric dimension threatening to doom a sleepy city and its unsuspecting residents?
GMs from 22 lousy NBA teams gathered last week in Chicago to reach a somewhat inevitable Yao consensus: he's big and he can shoot a little.
The rest of us, who witnessed only seconds of his half-speed workout in brief video clips, reached a different conclusion: no idea if he can hoop, don't care, but he looks like some great flightless bird on the edge of extinction, habitat disappearing, no female of the species. Take the kids to see one before the last Yao vanishes from the earth? Cool. We'll pay to see it.
However, the public's interest in Yao as a carnival oddity might not be enough to save the job or reputation of the GM that actually drafts the 22-year-old center. Unless of course that GM is Chicago's notorious Jerry Krause, who lost the last scrap of his reputation in a hunting accident years ago. Yao submitted to a private workout for the Bulls during his stay in Chicago, leaving Jerry to slouch back to his lair, ruminating on the possibility of a starting frontcourt that would go 7'5" (Ming), 7'1" (Tyson Chandler) and 6'11" (Eddie Curry). Young and relatively untested, but unprecedented in scale.
Watching Yao tour Chicago, we fiercely wish that somehow he were a baseball prospect and the famously insensitive, desperately missed Harry Caray could broadcast his exploits:
Steve, this Yao Ming is a strapping young right-hander. There's a fastball inside, 1 and 0. The ladies like Ming, a good-looking young Chinaman. The Cubs want to say hello to Connie Bozec from Davenport, Iowa. She's celebrating a birthday tonight. There's a curveball on the corner to even the count at 1 and 1. This Yao needs to swing the bat once in a while. Yao Ming spelled backwards is...Gah-Nim Oh-Ay. Sounds as good as Yao Ming to me. Heh-heh. Steve, have you ever had the Yao Ming at Benihana? Oh, what I wouldn't give for a cold Budweiser and some Pork Yao Ming right now. Popped him up to end the inning. How can he swing at that?
Instead, we'll settle for Marv Albert describing Yao's misadventures next season. No doubt the Chinese government, strangely involved in bringing Yao to the NBA, has demanded that he receive suitable network exposure. They give away pandas, but we can't pry away a big man without concessions.
Our official prediction is that Yao will enjoy a brief career as a Bull, but will be quickly dismantled by the NBA's best. Stung by the embarrassment, Chinese government engineers will retreat to their underground laboratory and emerge years later with Yao 2.0. This Yao will be a twelve-foot, 400-pound brilliant accident of genetic manipulation, crackling with radioactive fury. He'll be drafted by a salivating J-Krause, who will be photographed embracing Yao's knee on draft day. International relations will not improve, however. Still ain't no Yao that can handle the Diesel.
Big Foam Finger