Yao Ming Now Big Man in Shanghai Politics
When news broke that Chinese NBA superstar Yao Ming was planning to hang up his jersey last summer after a persistent injury got the better of his on-court career, his former also-newly retired-rival Shaquille O'Neal welcomed him.
"Enjoy retirement!" exclaimed Shaq on YouTube. "Let's go on vacation, bro me and you."
No word if the two towering centers were ever able to share 18 holes or a drink on a beach, but it would be hard to imagine how either of them would have found the time, especially Yao.
Since leaving professional basketball in July, Yao has become a force in Shanghai. He has gone back to school, launched a high-end wine label, released pandas into the wild and, just this past weekend, been elected onto a political advisory committee in his hometown of Shanghai.
The 31 year old took his place on Sunday at Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Shanghai Committee's annual meeting alongside six other newly elected members who were all almost twice his age. Among his new colleagues were the directors of the Shanghai Library and the Shanghai Tourism Bureau. Yao is the youngest and, at 7-foot-6, the tallest member of the 142-person committee.
Even in retirement, Yao Ming is still one of the most famous men in China. Plenty of organizations and Yao himself are seemingly eager to use his influential capital while the going is still good.
"Yao said the new title shows trust coming from the people in the city," Yao spokesman Zhang Chi told the China Daily. Zhang denied that Yao harbored any political aspirations.
"The responsibilities for a CPPCC member include offering political consultation, and supervision. What Yao wants is to use his influence to do good deeds for society, but not to seek a political position," Zhang said.
With the new job Yao is expected to attend regular meetings and offer suggestions or written proposals to the local government.
"Raising proposals is very serious business, and I do not want to be hasty," Yao told the press after the meeting, adding that he will be focusing his efforts on sports education, an area he is more familiar with.
Yao will have to juggle this new political job with a fulltime gig at Shanghai's prestigious Jiao Tong University (though through custom, private one-on-one degree program) and his commitments as owner of Shanghai's professional basketball team, The Sharks, which he used to play for.