Sun Ming Ming of China was the featured player as a professional basketball team based in suburban Washington, D.C. this week achieved a Guiness Book world record by starting the tallest line-up in basketball history. VOA Sports editor Parke Brewer was at Sunday's American Basketball Association game between the Maryland Nighthawks and the Cape Cod Frenzy and has the story.
Sun Ming Ming is a sight to behold. The Maryland Nighthawks' center stands 2.36 meters and weighs 168 kilograms. His addition to the Nighthawks this season helped the lower level professional basketball team draw sell-out crowds to their home arena that's on a community college campus in Rockville, Maryland.
Tom Doyle is both the president of the American Basketball Association and the owner of the Maryland Nighthawks. He told VOA he had wanted to have Sun on his team last year, but the huge player had health problems related to his size.
"I really think it's a great story," said Doyle. "I think he has the potential, and that's part of the minor leagues and all organizations, is to work with young players and try to get them to the next level. And you know I knew he'd be a good fit here."
Doyle says the 23-year-old Sun Ming Ming has a good sense of humor and has been a fast learner of English.
"He's unbelievable," he said. "I mean rarely has he looked at me or anybody and said, 'I don't understand. He understands an immense amount. We're the ones who are limited because we can't speak his language at all."
Prior to coming to the Nighthawks, Doyle says Sun had not played much organized basketball.
"This was really a good test for him to learn how to play in a game situation, and we saw improvement and that's what we want to see in a player is that they're getting better each game," he said. "And he's a hard worker. He works harder than anybody I've seen, so that goes a long way in anything in life."
One of Sun's teammates on the Maryland Nighthawks, guard Randy Gill, told VOA the huge Chinese player has a lot of potential.
"He's continuing to develop as a player," he said. "He's a very quick learner of the game of basketball. He knows the game of basketball. So now it's just about positioning, getting himself in the right situation, and I think you're going to see him continue to improve. He's very young. A lot of players he's playing against are older. It's not the NBA, but it's still a professional basketball league, and there are a lot more experienced players. So being that he's young, I mean he's still coming around [learning the game]. He's going to come into his own." [understand what he can do and how well he can do it].
Sun Ming Ming says he's been enjoying his basketball experience in the United States.
"Hey, I like it," he said. "I'm happy now. Hahaha. Very special. I'm very happy."
And Sun said it was also special to be part of the world record team. Nighthawks owner Tom Doyle came up with the idea, and to set the record for the tallest ever starting line-up, he brought in - for just the one game - former NBA player Romanian Gheorghe Muresan, who stands only five centimeters shorter than Sun and has been mentoring him. The other three players were 2.15 meters - Ayo Adigun who is from Nigeria, 2.13 meters - Deng D'Awol who is from Sudan, and 2.03 meters - American Barry Mitchell. The five were only on the court together for a few minutes to start the game.
While the Nighthawks beat Cape Cod, 132-128, on a half-court shot from forward Hugh Jones at the final buzzer - worth four points under a special league rule - they failed to qualify for the playoffs. So Sun Ming Ming headed to Michigan where he will play for the Grand Rapids "Flight" whose first game of the 2007 International Basketball League season is next week.