"Yao on one hand is this great symbol of China's modern advancement, a commercial icon that can stride across the Pacific and play the role of a bridge between East and West," he said.
"But he's still the product of this system which is one of the last bastions of socialism in China." Larmer says Yao's birth had been anticipated for decades by communist officials - desperate to boost national pride through sports - who had been tracking his family for two generations.
As of 2007, he had led his team to the playoffs three times and had been consistently selected as an all-star player.
He played for the Chinese basketball team in the 2004 Olympics and carried his country’s flag during the opening ceremony.
; born September 12, 1980) is a retired Chinese professional basketball player who played for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Larmer said Yao, China's first successful basketball export and its most famous face worldwide, was the product of a harsh and antiquated program which has changed little since it was set up more than 50 years ago under Mao Zedong.
He began basketball training at the age of nine at Shanghai’s Xuhui Sports School. Ridicule and the painfully rigorous style of Chinese sports training led him to detest the game.
As a child he wanted to be an archeologist, and he has retained a love of history in adulthood.
Chinese athlete, highly acclaimed center for the NBA’s Houston Rockets.
After playing five seasons with the Shanghai Sharks, Yao (his last name) joined the Rockets as the number one draft pick in the 2002 NBA season.