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Yao Ming Makes Unspectacular NBA Debut - 2002-10-31


The much anticipated National Basketball Association debut of Chinese center Yao Ming did not go quite as well as expected. But his coach with the Houston Rockets, Rudy Tomjanovich says the team is not worried.

There is only one player in the NBA taller than China's Yao Ming, who stands 2.26 meters tall. Ming was selected first in last June's NBA draft by the Houston Rockets. Previously he played for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.

In his NBA debut Wednesday against the host Indianapolis Pacers, Yao played more like an average backup center than the number one overall pick in the draft. In fact, his 11 minutes played were the fewest by a number-one pick in an NBA debut in about 25 years.

Earlier this week, Yao assured his translator that the Chinese way was to never get too up or too down. There is little doubt Yao Ming was feeling somewhat down after his first NBA game. With his parents in the stands in Indianapolis and an estimated 300 million watching on television in China, he did not score a point, attempting only one field goal. He had two-rebounds, two turnovers and was called for three fouls.

After the game, his translator relayed Yao's comments to the media.

"I learned that I still have a lot to learn and that I am just a rookie," he said.

Because he played for the Chinese national team at the recent Asian games in Busan, South Korea, Yao missed all of Houston's NBA training camp and most of the pre-season. He arrived in Houston less than two weeks before his first NBA game.

His coach Rudy Tomjanovich said that is a big factor.

"He has been here a total of 10-days and [he is] trying to grasp all these different things that we are trying to do," he said. "And you know it has happened so fast, I just think it is going to take some time."

Yao's new Rockets' teammate Cuttino Mobley agrees.

"You see it is one thing to know the English language, then it is another thing that in a fast-paced game, you have to know that, what we are telling you to do, jump in here [make this play], and we are telling him in English, and he has only been here a week and a half, " he said.

Indiana Pacers coach Isiah Thomas says Yao Ming's teammates, coach and fans must be patient.

"Give him time. I mean it is not like he went to high school here, went to college here and then he came into the NBA. This is a young man that is on quite a journey," he said.

Yao Ming said that sometimes during his NBA debut game it felt like he was in a dream. Through his translator, Yao said he knows his playing will improve.

"There are some things I regret about tonight, but I realize this is just the beginning. It is regretful, but there has to be a start to everything, and this is a start for me," he said.

With an 82 game regular season in the NBA, Yao Ming will have a lot of time to prove he belongs in the world's elite professional basketball league.