The Year of the Yao (2005) In 2002, when the Houston Rockets used their first-round lottery pick to draft Yao Ming, the 7-foot-5 superstar center from Shanghai, it looked very much… 2005-04-15 PG PT89M Documentary Yao Ming Fine Line Features
Movie Review

The Year of the Yao (2005)

MPAA Rating: PG
Yao Ming, The Year of the Yao | CHEAPER THAN A TAXI A tall-tale documentary captures Ming's NBA debut
Image credit: Year of the Yao: 2005 NBA Entertainment
CHEAPER THAN A TAXI A tall-tale documentary captures Ming's NBA debut
EW's GRADE
B+

Details Limited Release: Apr 15, 2005; Rated: PG; Length: 89 Minutes; Genre: Documentary; With: Yao Ming; Distributor: Fine Line Features

In 2002, when the Houston Rockets used their first-round lottery pick to draft Yao Ming, the 7-foot-5 superstar center from Shanghai, it looked very much like one of those making-of-a-sports-legend moments (Lew Alcindor and the Milwaukee Bucks, O.J. Simpson snapped up by the last-place Buffalo Bills). The 22-year-old Yao, friendly and loose-limbed, a genial giant who resembles Elvis crossed with Lurch, was going to put the Rockets right on top. At the very least, he would draw crowds with his dazzling reach and prowess.

The most fascinating aspect of The Year of the Yao, a skillful and winning piece of honest booster portraiture directed by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, is that Yao, for all his height and talent, starts out not as a hero but as an overrated underdog. Heading onto the court for his rookie season, he fumbles balls and misses shots; he gets elbowed and falls down. He looks like the Great Tall Hype. In his native China, Yao played a game rooted in diligence, honor, teamwork. What he lacks, at least for a while, is the streetwise killer instinct that defines American basketball. As The Year of the Yao progresses, Yao begins to treat his body like a tank, not just making shots but charging. (Facing the battering-ram-in-flight that is Shaquille O'Neal will do that to you.) Since he remains, off the NBA court, a modest and gracious presence, there's something moving in his transformation. Watching The Year of the Yao, you glimpse what the future of globalized sports will look like: players from every nation inspiring, and taking over, each other's spirits.

Originally posted Apr 13, 2005 Published in issue #816 Apr 22, 2005 Order article reprints