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Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Superstar Hardcover – November 3, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 7'5" Yao Ming didn't get where he is today because of some lucky genes and a good three-point shot. Everything about him, from birth to first endorsement deal, was planned by a confluence of government and business interests intent on creating a superstar. Basketball has been popular in China since the late 19th century, so a government with a Soviet-style, militaristic sports system intent on creating world-class athletes thought little of mating its tallest athletes in an attempt to pass on their genes. Thus in 1980, Yao was born to the tallest couple in China, the result of matchmaking that carried with it the dark shadow of eugenics. From there, a government campaign worked to turn "a boy with an ideal genetic makeup into the best basketball player in Chinese history," writes Larmer, and it wasn't long before Nike and the NBA had their hooks in him. Larmer, Newsweek's former Shanghai bureau chief, crafts his narrative well, explaining the byzantine interests competing for their pound of Yao's flesh with admirable simplicity. Yao's story is so controlled that when he finally overcomes his initial clumsiness and starts rebelling against his government at book's end, it's hard not to feel empathy for the gentle giant.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Larmer, former Newsweek bureau chief in Shanghai (and Buenos Aires, Miami, and Hong Kong), traces the development and emergence of Yao Ming as China's first bona fide NBA star, from the arranged marriage of his parents--both reluctant but sensational, and tall, basketball players in China--to his care and feeding as a youth by PRC sports officials, to Nike's savvy insinuation into Yao's career and into mainstream Chinese culture in the mid-1990s, to his number-one selection in the 2002 NBA draft. Not coincidentally, Yao's story here reflects the seismic shifts taking place in Chinese sports, post-1949; it starts with a country virtually invisible in the global arena that becomes, by the time of Yao's emergence, an international power not embarrassed to flex its muscle. If Larmer's account succeeds in contextualing Yao in the high-octane world of the NBA, it also succeeds in revealing one aspect of China's more fundamental struggle with its socioeconomic identity in the world today. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (November 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592400787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592400782
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read the entire book while on a 11 hour flight from the US to China. All in all, the book was good, lots of background info on Yao, his parents and even disgraced hoops star Wang Zhi-Zhi.

However, I'm not sure I buy into the book's theory of China trying to be matchmaker and have Yao's parents to produce tall offspring. Why stop at Yao's parents? They certainly weren't the only tall people in China at the time. As most of us basketball fans know by now, Yao Ming (by himself), cannot carry the Chinese National Basketball team. The team needs more capable players to compete against the European and American teams.

Another minor complaint of the book is the re-cycling of previously written articles about Yao. Perhaps there just isn't a ton of written material about Yao, but I know there were a few sections regarding Yao there were paraphased from other sources. As an avid reader of anything Yao, I wish the author could have been more discreet or rewrote the source material differently. As is, it was just annoying to read something and feel like "dang, I know that came from somewhere before".

I did finish the book by the end of my plane ride. :) All in all, despite the misgivings of the theories and the apparently recycling of some articles, the book was fairly entertaining and you do learn something about Yao, his family and others in the Chinese sports empire.
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Format: Hardcover
I am NOT a huge sports nut...you know the kind who rattles off stats and knows all the players, but I really enjoyed this book. The story of Yao Ming was very interesting especially as it interlaces with China's history. I think it gives a very interesting look into the evolution of Chinese sports, politics and government. It kept me interested and I really looked forward to picking it up again every evening to read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of Yao Ming--the NBA's tallest-ever player who stands 7'6''--is necessarily the tale of the "sports machine," of politics, and of international business deals. Caught up in the forces of history, Shanghai's own homeboy has emerged as a symbol of the love-hate, push-pull relationship between China and the West. In Operation Yao Ming, award-winning journalist Brook Larmer has penned an enlightening and somewhat controversial account of the factors that shaped Yao's life, paved his way to the NBA, and rendered him a bridge to and eventually a symbol of East-West relations.

Tension is the key operative word in this story. There is tension between Yao's life as a basketball player and what it might be otherwise, between Yao's life as the star on a Chinese basketball team and as 2002's number one draft for the American NBA, between American basketball training methods and the Chinese sports training system, between communism and capitalism, between the concept of sports as a way to glorify a nation and sports for their own sake. As a pawn in the center of all of this, Yao served as the key to unlock the treasure chest in many high stakes games--sports and otherwise.

While the book is intriguing for its presentation of research on the Chinese basketball system and how its star player winds up in the NBA, a few faults must be mentioned. Operation Yao Ming was derived from a series of articles written for Newsweek between 2000 and 2003. While that means that the book displays the merit of much research, it also unfortunately succumbs to the hazards of allowing all that information to be hastily thrown together.
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Format: Hardcover
Many professional athletes have an over-sized ego that gets manifested in music videos, movies, shoe commercials, and eventually newspaper headlines. Hence a book about them seems anti-climatic at best. Not so with Yao Ming, or Ming Yao in the Chinese language. Soft-spoken, subtle and self-deprecating, he strives to keep a low profile in utter contrast to his physical presence. Such a person then makes a great book subject, and this book delivers. Part history of Chinese sports, part profile of Yao Ming and other greats of Chinese basketball, and part investigative reporting of the NBA's expansion into China, this book lays out the personal, professional and business dealings of key individuals such as Wang Zhi Zhi, Yao Ming, their respective family members, major figures in China's sports establishment, David Stern, and agents of peripheral players such as Nike, Reebok, and other companies. In doing so, the author shows how China's political and business landscape is actually quite similar to America's, a series of competing groups that sometimes cooperate, but are usually suspicious of each other. The author also contrasts sports training and culture in America with respect to China, and how this translates into success and failure on the court/field. Overall, a very good book and an interesting read.
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Format: Hardcover
I was a bit skeptical at first, as my impression (from skimming a quick article about it a few years ago) was that the book was just another "conspiracy theory" book based on loose facts and one author's imagination.

However, when I glanced at it while browsing books last summer in my local public library, I found that it had much more depth and substance than initially expected. After further reading, I discovered that it was very interesting, backed by many credible sources (interviews, articles, etc).

Although one might not agree with the author's suggestions of government manipulation in order to "create" Yao Ming (such as the intentional pairing of his tall, basketball player parents to produce China's next star center), this shouldn't be a reason to dismiss the book altogether.

As a fan of basketball with a strong interest in China, I found it very fascinating to read about the background of Yao's parents (acc. to the author his mother was a "Red Guard"), his childhood, his journey to the NBA, and also the compelling story of Wang ZhiZhi (former PLA soldier/player and China's first ever player to be drafted in the NBA).
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