The Chinese Basketball Association voted unanimously Thursday to appoint the former Houston Rockets star its president in a step toward reform for an organization that has in the past been led by government bureaucrats.
The CBA’s social media account quoted the Hall of Famer as saying he hoped to make improvements to the domestic league’s draft system and push more Chinese players into the international arena.
In comments after the vote, Yao said he would introduce scientific training methods to Chinese clubs, improve the tactical education of players and forge exchanges with leagues in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
“Our next move will be to borrow from international advanced experience, to thoroughly study China’s actual conditions and carve ourselves a path of innovation,” Yao said.
Reforms will cover all aspects of the game in China, from the national team to youth programs, he said.
Already the owner of the league’s Shanghai Sharks, Yao announced that he gave up his position before taking over his new role.
Yao, 36, was one of the first Chinese athletes to become an international household name when the Houston Rockets drafted him with the first pick in 2002. The 2.29-meter (7-foot-6) center played for eight seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2011, citing chronic injuries.
A two-time Olympian, the Shanghai-born Yao was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2009, he purchased the Shanghai Sharks, his former CBA team.
Over the past decade, NBA stars such as Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, J.R. Smith and Gilbert Arenas have spent one or more seasons playing in the CBA as the league grew in prominence. But Chinese sports fans say the league could be made stronger still, and their country’s basketball talent pipeline remains underwhelming, despite the sport’s grassroots popularity.
Yang Ming, a Chinese sports commentator, praised the appointment of Yao over a government official, saying Yao had broad experience as a player in the NBA and as a CBA club owner.
“For many years, we haven’t seen any admirable or acceptable reform measures introduced by the CBA,” Yang said. “Yao Ming is not only a brilliant player but intelligent with his independent ideas.”
Information from ESPN-Tencent’s Qiushi Li and The Associated Press was used in this report.