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Former VOA Staffer Serves as Translator for NBA Star Yao Ming - 2003-04-09

Chinese basketball star Yao Ming will soon finish his first season in the U.S.-based National Basketball Association with the Houston Rockets. The man who has stood by his side most of the way is his translator, Colin Pine, who also spent some time working at the Voice of America.

Colin Pine is 29 years old, and has commanded as much attention during this NBA season as many of the star players. That is because he is the official interpreter for widely-followed Chinese rookie player Yao Ming, who stands 2.26 meters.

After graduating from college, Pine lived in Taiwan for three years, two of them working and one studying. Then he got a job at Voice of America in the Chinese branch, where he worked for a year-and-one-half doing research and translation.

"Ever since I started studying Chinese in 1996," he explained, " I have really been in love with the language, and VOA gave me the opportunity to continue to study and to continue to use the abilities that I learned when I was overseas. "

Colin Pine had planned to go to law school, but reconsidered. He spoke to a friend at the State Department about doing interpretation, and she told him the NBA's Houston Rockets were looking to hire an interpreter for their star rookie player, Yao Ming of China. Knowing he loved basketball, she thought Pine should apply for the position, so he did.

"I thought, why not just try it. So, I sent a resume and a cover letter. And a month later, I heard back from his [Yao's] agent, and we started the interview process," he said. "And, I was fortunate. I guess I had the right combinations of abilities they were looking for."

Colin Pine was selected from about 400 applicants to be Yao Ming's official translator. He told VOA Sports that he thinks being a big basketball fan was a key reason he got the job.

"I have a passion for both Chinese and basketball," he said. "So, I think, when you have a passion for something, it comes through in your work. And, I think, that was reflected in the cover letter I wrote; and, I think, it was reflected in my conversation with his agent. So, I think, that they were able to tell I would be really dedicated to this job."

Yao Ming was playing in the Asia basketball championships last year, when Colin Pine was hired. So, Yao did not get to select his own interpreter. The first time he spoke to Pine was when he arrived at Houston's airport. The two did a news conference on the spot.

"It was a little bit awkward. Fortunately, Yao Ming is an exceptional human being, and he made it easy. We started joking right away and became fast friends.," Colin said.

Colin Pine says he has built a good working relationship with Yao Ming.

"He is a great person. He is a wonderful person. He has a great sense of humor," he said. "He is 22-years-old, but he is mature beyond his years. And it is funny, at 29, I think I can learn a lot from him."

And Yao is learning a lot from his translator, Colin Pine, who lives with Yao and his parents in a house in suburban Houston.

"His English is getting better and better. We talk in English a lot. Just to practice, we try to have conversations in English," he said. "You know, he will be independent and that is the goal. I do not know at what time [when]. But it is going to happen sooner, rather than later."

Pine says Yao is getting used to life in the United States.

"He has been here several times before, so I do not think it is as much of an adjustment as people think. He does not have a lot of time to go out and see things, so I think it is tough," Colin said. " But I think he adapts well to everything. So, I think, no matter where he is, or would be, he would be able to adapt. "

But Colin Pine says living the schedule of an NBA player, being on the road so much, city-to-city for games is very tiring. But since Yao was the league's number-one draft choice prior to this season, and given that he is so tall and from China, Pine said, he gets even more attention.

"Just being surrounded by media all the time. It is not just a few questions. There are always constant media demands," he said. "His agents and the team try to control that, but it is a little toiling sometimes."

Colin Pine says, if Yao Ming wants him back as his translator next season, he will stay. He added, no matter what, it has been a great experience.