The Year of the Yao

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The Year of the Yao
Review (8/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)

The Year of the Yao is a documentary-style movie chronicling the rise of basketball player Yao Ming from a young up-and-coming player in China to a 7 foot 5 inches tall superstar in the NBA. We follow Yao Ming from the day he was drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2002 NBA draft, to the day he left China to head to America with his parents and the weight of a nation on his shoulders and on through his first year in the NBA. The movie is narrated primarily by Yao Ming's personal translator Colin Pine, who accompanied Ming throughout his first year in Houston but also includes comments from people ranging from Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley to Adam Sandler and Bill Clinton. In this documentary we get to see Yao Ming go from a clumsy, seemingly overrated basketball player who looks like he is in a league that is out of his league to a legitimate NBA star who learned hold his own with the likes of the dominant Shaq-Daddy.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching The Year of the Yao. This movie is a must see for any fans of this gentle giant, any fans of basketball or any fans of sports in general. It has some good interviews, great behind-the-scenes footage and it gives us an interesting glimpse of what life is like off the court for a star athlete. You really will develop a greater respect for Yao Ming after watching this movie and seeing and hearing the soft-spoken and humble young man. You will also probably almost feel sorry for the guy. It seems as if he can't go anywhere outside his front door and off the basketball court without having people stare at him and being mobbed by fans. It's not like the guy can throw on a hat and a fake moustache and go out for a night on the town and hope to not be recognized. The guy is 7 foot 5 for Pete's sake. It's almost claustrophobic just seeing him walk around and having people flock to him like he is the messiah. You could see the wear and tear this lifestyle had on Yao Ming by the end of the long NBA season and it obviously really affected his play in the final games of that season.

Two other things I have to mention about The Year of the Yao - one is how the film builds up and plays out the first big showdown between Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal. The movie really does a good job at making that match-up extremely exciting, even though the game happened two years ago. Secondly, I love how The Year of the Yao never mentioned money. Sure we get to see Yao Ming's beautiful house and watch him making a tonne of commercials for which he was probably paid big money but it was nice for once to sit down and watch a program about sports and not have to listen to whiney athletes talk about money and complain about how much they make and so on and so forth. In a day and age when sports and money are synonymous with each other and in my mind, have ruined sports, it was nice to watch a movie about a humble athete who, at least at the time this movie was made, had not yet been influenced by money and had not yet had the fun taken out of the sport for the sake of the almighty dollar. This just made The Year of the Yao that much more enjoyable. Let's just hope that he still has the attitude that he carried during the early days of his playing career.

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