Pro basketball in China is hot with former NBA superstars Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas and Tracy McGrady upgrading the level of competition and credibility. But Chinese basketball is lagging. After finishing eighth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China failed to win a single game at the London Games this summer, thanks largely to the absence of Yao Ming, who had retired because of injuries.
How can China develop enough homegrown talent to compete internationally and also allow its domestic league to rely less on imports? Yao has an interesting idea that goes against the grain of traditional Chinese wisdom: Schools and parents need to give kids a break from the full-court press of academics.
"We just need to give them more time to play," Yao told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm not saying education is not important, but we have to have balance. ... More and more people are starting to realize that education is not only about homework and examinations. Physical education is important, too."
Given China's population, the world's largest at nearly 1.4 billion, there is an abundant talent pool to be tapped for hoops success. But the millions of Chinese kids who play basketball aren't being given enough of an opportunity to develop their skills at the highest level because of the cultural importance placed on schoolwork, according to Yao.
Yao is hopeful that the NBA success of Jeremy Lin, who is Taiwanese-American but has a big following in China, can help spread the message that hitting the books and the basketball court aren't mutually exclusive.
"He proved that it's not necessary to give up education to become a great athlete," Yao told the Journal.