Below is the transcript of an interview with President of the Chinese Basketball Association Yao Ming. The interview will play out in CNBC’s latest episode of CNBC Meets: Defining Values on 20 July 2018, 5.00PM SG/HK (in APAC) and 22.00 BST time (in EMEA). If you choose to use anything, please attribute to CNBC and Tania Bryer.
Tania Bryer (T): We're here in Geneva, and of course you've just become President of the Chinese Basketball Association, and you're here at the headquarters of FIBA’s here. What does it mean to you, to be President?
Yao Ming (Y): A lot of people really working together, you know, to do our part. And we are here in Geneva for the FIBA’s meeting, and we prepare for the World Games, uh, 2019, in Beijing, China, and we give a presentation about how our preparation is, and we try to do everything we could, to make the game great.
T: How proud do you feel that China will be hosting the World Basketball Championships?
Y: You know, we hosted the 2008 Olympics, ten years ago, and that was terrific, and including myself. I think it impressed a lot of people in the world. But this is the first time we host a single sport. Basketball have the same influence as soccer, in order to change so many young people's lives, and their life attitude. And have a chance to host the games in China, and that will connect us even more, and better, to our fans, and we can, you know, get in more people to enjoy the sports.
T: Yao, you've become a sporting hero for so many around the world, and an inspiration. When you first started, growing up in Shanghai, your parents were both basketball players, what were some of those early childhood memories like, for you?
Y: I think it is no different, probably, than any other children in my generation. You know, we were just happy, growing up with our parents, go to school every day, come back to play and finish our homework, and obviously, I played basketball a little bit. We live in a social with a lot of sports personnel, they have experience of playing or coaching in sports area, in different, you know, basketball, soccer, track and field, all kinds of things, and they would talk about that, about the past, you know, how great my parents were, as a basketball player, and, most importantly, the great person they are. I was fortunate to have parents be my hero, and everything. Every day that I do, and try, you know, I can make them proud.
T: When did you think, "Right, this is what I'm going to do"?
Y: I played basketball for many reasons. You know, at the first, any ball sports is very attractive. Whether it's kicking or playing and second part, you get along with a lot of same-age boys, not only playing sports, but also, they have fun together and talk to each other, and have a small boys' party on the court. It's not just a sport, it's a small social. I cannot remember exactly when the basketball become my life pursuit, probably 17, 18? Starting to play a little bit more basketball, in different levels. And it feels fun, obviously, because my size gives me a lot of advantage, and during playing basketball, obviously those advantages encouraged me to play more.
T: You had a very successful time at the Shanghai Sharks, and then America came calling, the NBA, and they wanted to draft you. What did that feel like for you?
Y: You have to prepare yourself even better, you know, be disciplined, rest, training, and prepare for yourself in the game, obviously. I feel pressure, it's a ground undiscovered, for me, and you don't know what waits out there. Especially, when you not speak English back then.
T: And, of course, you became hugely successful at the Houston Rockets, and such a popular figure there, Yao, how did that feel for you?
Y: You know, popular is come after if you can finish work.
Y: But never let popular distract you. You know where this popular is from, and you know if, and I'm not here for-, really, just, somehow the popular is like a side-effect of you, if you can do your work. So, I'm not really thinking about it.
T: Yao, in 2016, you got to the NBA Hall of Fame, what did that moment feel like for you?
Y: First of all, I appreciate it. You know, what life can give to me, and what the entire basketball organisation can give to me. That's-, for me, the one of the greatest achievements I had. And I don't know if I really deserve it, but I try and earn it.
T: Shaq O'Neal was also there at the same time. He'd been a little bit of your rival. How did it feel for him to be there?
Y: It’s an accomplishment for me, for somebody to call me as a rival to him, you know, he has no comparison in basketball history. It’s such a compliment for me if anybody were to call me as a rival to him. I mean he’s just so great, he is on another level.
T: What do you think, from that whole experience, did you learn the most, Yao? What do you think you took away from that?
Y: Don't be too self-centralised, and to learn from others, and listen from others.
T: The town of Houston, and the NBA, they hold a special place in their heart for you, and there's-, on February the 2nd, I believe they've named a Yao Ming day.
Y: It's great to have it. I appreciate it. I always say that, Houston, I spent my ten years over there, from 22 to 31, and-, almost ten years-, it has become my home away from home.
T: When you first went to America, there was a moment when you were going down to the aeroplane, and there was the long tunnel, and you weren't sure about going to a new country. What were you thinking, at the time?
Y: I remember that moment, you know, when the time comes, and you really ship yourself out, I feel pressure.
T: And how did you manage that pressure, Yao. How did you cope with that?
Y: I think just focus on work and then nail down your focus, and that will help you to just to clear your mind, and do such things.
T: Because you became so famous, did that change anything for you in your life?
Y: The first year I'm back to China, after the season, I’m still walking to a computer shop, trying buy some software or hardware to upgrade my computer, or things like this, and I find I cannot walk down the street anymore. So, quickly, I learned how to duck in to the wall and hide myself in public.
T: You've used that fame to-, to help many others, and you're in the tenth year of the Yao Ming Foundation. Tell me about how it started, back in 2008.
Y: Well, actually, the story, it started much earlier than 2008. The same summer I come back to China, after first season, besides buy computers I did other things. That's the same year, the same summer that SARS hit China.
Y: And you know, my team and I, you know, getting together with other people, including SMG, Shanghai Media Group, together, we did a TV show for one thing, the first thing is trying to raise the money to help the medical research, or this or that. The next thing is try to, you know, use the influence to calm people down, and-, Because, I remember, at that time, that, you because the infection, people get a little bit nervous about, you know, living, but we all know that life had to go on. That's the first time I really, personally, deeply involved with, you can call that social responsibility, or social activity. So every summer, I come back and do a little bit of this and that with different organisations. Until, like, 2007, we organised a charity game, and in Beijing, we invited some of NBA players, including, Steve Nash. Actually, he started the idea, Steve Nash from Canada, and Carmelo Anthony, and some other NBA guys, including myself, we host a game in Beijing, have those NBA celebrities play against a team in China. It's very successful event, and the game, we raised, I think somewhere around, like, $2 million dollars. (wow) Just in a week. Yeah, we donated to Chinese Youth foundation to help them to build some schools, housing, okay, it's time for me to think about the long-term plan, instead of just to jump one from another.
Y: That's 2007, and we were still playing basketball, and not much of a time to think about, so let's hold for a year, and we need staff, to work on this, we need an organisation, we can't just do it by our own. Um, and also 2008, Olympics is just right around the corner. And like I say, "Okay, do that, after we finish this Olympics, and then we have more time, in summer." But suddenly the earthquake, in May 2008, hit China, and everybody got mobilised in the country, trying to do our own part to restore something and then we, my team and I, is thinking, "Oh, why not now?" I mean, it's urgent.
Y: It's urgent, we shook a lot of part, but still, you know, I think we need to do our part to set up the foundation, and see what we can do there. But at the beginning, we think, "Okay, well, let's rebuild a school which has been destroyed in the earthquake." So, we started, in 2008. It's never a perfect plan, you never know, some of the plan just came out like this, but we stick with it. And we are all very proud about what we did. Obviously, the plan is not go straight, as we planned, at the very first point. And at the first point, we just continued to build a school, but we get in to 2.0, which is, we think the school is not just a building. A school is not only a building, that, to-, but it should be a content, just like we just talked about. It's a content in there, which we can give to the kids.
Y: And obviously, we are not good at education, and we don't want to pretend like one, we're not an education expertise, or the expert. We're good at sports. We're good, my team know how to organise some primary school basketball games. That's how we started the plan, and I think four years after 2008. But we still built 17 schools in the country, half of them in the earthquake zone and half of them spread out over the rest of China, mostly on the countryside, you know.
Y: Underdeveloped area. And I always think, "Okay, we don't want to build a school and left them" And they need repairs, they need it for fields and sports equipment, books, build a library or something. And why do we not connect them to each other by the games, basketball games? So, we have all the principals, for the first time, sitting together, "Hey, what we can do more for you guys?" you know, besides just repair things, you know, painting the walls, or this. And they said, "Okay, well, we-, our idea is to build a small school league." Obviously, the part is that they are so spread out, it's hard for travel-, you know, young-aged kids, that far the distance. Okay, let's including more schools, even they are not built by us, you know, so that, we recruit a couple more staff, who have experience, can help us to create a small basketball league. We call that the Yao Foundation Basketball League. And, if I remember right, this year, we have around 500 schools join the programme.
T: And when you go, yourself, and you visit the schools, and see what's happening, and what everyone's doing, how do you feel?
Y: It gave me the feeling that, "Okay, um, I can use my success on the basketball into different areas, to help people. And, obviously, it's given me the feeling about, uh, you know, fulfil, it's a good feeling, you know. It's like-, almost like a reward for myself. People need a connection. Face to face. Need to communicate. And that kind of activity, it really creates the, kind of, opportunities to do it. Again, the programme of this basketball league is not to seek for next superstar or basketball genius. It is actually opportunities for people connecting each other. Not only the kids, but also the teachers from different schools, and the parents behind it.
T: What sort of values do you think sport is giving to these children?
Y: For my part, I'm not good at academic study. Never was. You know, I would consider my rank about a C+, when I was their age. Maybe B-. But I think something that we just cannot teach, by-, we cannot teach, they have to experience it, on the court. It's like when you have a teammate fall down on the ground, will you just tell them to stand up? Or are you going to give him a hand, and pull him up? It's kind of a friendship, it's kind of a teamwork. You have to handle those emotions, you have to handle those experiences by yourself. When you're winning, how are you getting to the next step? Obviously, when you lose, today, are you going to quit? Or are you going to continue to fight? It's a team sport. And even life is not that so individual… we all are touched by so many things. Families, colleagues, you know, older, and our next generations. And, I know now that-, when people say, well, they're individuals, personalities, again, but we're not really alone in this world, and we need to find those connections, and be part of it.
T: In terms of pressure, Yao, or teaching them, communicating with the young children, and teaching them to be a team, how did you, yourself, learn, do you think?
Y: I went to a couple of, you know, great coaches, whether in China or the United States, and also European coaches, too, and I learned from the greatest. You know. Not necessarily become, "I am the-, I am the greatest," but at least I followed their steps. If anything to blame, blame them, not me. (laughter)
T: Yao, as well as the foundation, you've done so much work for WildAid, and helping banning ivory, and also, helping banning the shark fin soup. How did you feel about that, because you did so much work with them?
Y: Obviously, we are very happy. And, that so many people, so many hours' work, uh, and the result come out very positive. We all know that there's still a long way to go to save the animals, and then save ourselves.
T: And what did the trip to Kenya mean to you? What was the experience like?
Y: I had a great experience there. Great doesn't necessarily mean good, but sometimes worse, also, because we see goodness and also the darkness. How people can do, from both sides. And it's not as simple as just people hunting down poachers of the animal there, and the economic system that will alter a lot of those things. That's why we have that slogan, "When buying stops, the killing can too." I think that's a great one.
Y: Really affecting people. And, in Africa, I felt that, sometimes we're living in a concrete forest of the city, and we really need to see the jungle. And I'm sorry, not jungle, but the open ground in Africa. And it opened my heart. And so released sometimes. You know, we stop thinking about, all the pressure, all the stress, from the work, from all the, you know, things, mainly because there is no wi-fi over there, I can't reach outside-, And to see the stars in the middle of the night, I have to get up at like 3am, so when the moon was going down, so we can see, very clear, the Milky Way, and all the stars up there. It really, gave me a feeling that, you know, when you focus-, and previously, we always talk about focus, focus, focus on work, focus on connection, all kinds of things. But sometimes, you need that, kind of, moment to get you out of it there. When you're so focused on that, you feel the world is so small, and that you are alone in it, when you focus on your work. And that's where the pressure comes. Obviously, that-, we have our own way to handle the pressure, but still, the pressure is pressure. And when you're there, well, your mind gets cleaned. Your mind gets cleaned and you feel that you pull yourself out, and have a much bigger picture, to see the ecosystem and the world. I know that's still different, and in reality, we're living in the modern world, but I enjoyed that moment. I enjoyed that moment.
T: And there was a wonderful photograph of you, with David Beckham and Prince William, in 2014, on the anti-Rhino, poaching. Do you remember that? How was that, for you when you did that photograph?
Y: Yeah, I went to England, and right before we were heading to Kenya. It was quite amazing, I had a photo, obviously, that, they have us, all three of us walking in to a green room, that way, so they can digitalise everything, after that. And a couple, just walking in, we finished the shot, and we talked about, then, something other than, you know, obviously, they talked about soccer, which I can't understand. So I'm just staying silent, I nod my head, it sounds like I'm understand, but I'm not.
T: You're celebrating ten years, and you're very proud of many of the achievements and the projects. What's your vision, going forward?
Y: Going forward you know I always have a dream that, one day, that one of the kids who played in this league, I mean, this small school league, and then become a-, you know, a good guy. And not necessarily be a, like, Steve Jobs, or something, you know, just a good guy, maybe just a good husband, good son, or something. Uh. That come back here, and say, "I will help-, I want to be around here, to help the future generation." I would be very happy, if that become true.
T: And you inspire the next generation, you have a daughter, yourself, we were talking about what we would like to give to the next generation. What advice and values do you want to give to your own daughter?
Y: Talk to people. Eye to eye, face to face, not through the phone
T: Yao, for you, personally, what are your hopes for the future?
Y: My hope for the future? That's a very good question. Well. World peace? Can I say that? For the future, I-, I'd say I hope everybody finds their-, their own worth, and finds their happiness, in there, and happiness is-, is immeasurable and it's-, there's no standard in it. As long as they find their interests, and know what they do, and know that's their, uh, destiny, find their destiny, I think that's their future. And the future is not decided by any individuals.
T: Yao Ming, thank you so much for your time today.
Y: Thank you
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