Thursday, May 02, 2002

YAOZERS: Here's Jay Mariotti in the Sun-Times:

Sharp guy, Yao Ming. He hasn't been in this country four days, and he already has perfected the American art of blackmail. ''I look forward to taking each and every one of you to dinner some time in the future,'' he wrote in a six-paragraph release, distributed to reporters Wednesday after his workout/dog-and-pony show.

''But the check is on you if your reporting makes me look bad.''

The waitress better give me the tab, then. Because Yao clearly is a hype creation who is being stretched and spun into something he's not. Is he a unique project who can develop into a 10-year NBA veteran? Yep. Can he run the floor, hit a jump hook, locate the open cutter? Yep. Does he have calves bigger than my arms? Yep. Will he eventually score his 15 points, grab his seven rebounds, block his couple of shots? I assume. Is he the best Chinese curiosity since the fire drill? Absolutely.

Yet through the blurry blitz of magazine covers, TV features and media madness, let's get something straight: Yao is not going to stalk the game like a beast from a science-fiction movie. He is more novelty than reality, and it would behoove Jerry Krause, who was pacing the sideline during the one-hour Yao on Parade exercise at Loyola's ancient Alumni Gym, to avoid the 7-5 tower on draft night. As it is, concerns abound over the Chinese government's threats to take most of Yao's paycheck and restrict his NBA availability. The last thing the Bulls--or Donald Rumsfeld--need is Krause squabbling with Beijing and causing international incidents. Having now seen Yao perform up close, along with 100 media members and a who's-who of basketball cognoscenti, I can safely conclude he's a double-edged risk.

If you don't believe me, ask Jerry West. He was almost as big a story as Yao, having come out of hibernation this week to run the Memphis Grizzlies in a coup for team owner and Chicagoan Michael Heisley. While praising Yao's friendly demeanor and surprising technical knowledge of the game, West also made it known Shaquille O'Neal has nothing to worry about. Offensively, Yao will contribute. Defensively, he might disappear. As we've seen with other foreign players, he lacks the hard-core temperament to battle the league's brutes. When Yao said this last week of O'Neal--''It's not football. He should go to the WWF. He's too strong.''--wasn't he admitting he's already intimidated?

Mariotti goes on to say: "Until further notice, he's an 18-minute-a-game backup." This appears to be the consensus among people who watched him in the workouts: good, but not the next franchise player.

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