Before Jeremy Lin, There was Yao Ming

Doretta Lau on how Yao Ming inspired the title of her short story collection

Game six of the NBA finals between the Raptors and the Warriors was the most sporting excitement I’ve had in a while. Even if Jeremy Lin didn’t play. I had all the feelings while watching those dudes grind out that game down to the final seconds. The last time I was this elated over sports results, UCLA won the Super Six gymnastics title when Peng Peng Lee scored a perfect twenty to defeat Oklahoma. I haven’t watched the Raptors victory parade yet, but my mom texted to tell me she recorded it for me. I’m pretty sure I saw all the highlights on Twitter, but I can’t wait to watch it.

Before Jeremy Lin, there was Yao Ming. I knew who Yao was because he’s Chinese and he was good at his job and therefore in my universe very famous. Any time someone Chinese does something of note, everyone Chinese knows about it.

There’s a Raptors connection to Yao! Kyle Lowry played with him and compared Kawhi Leonard to him: “Kawhi is dominant, just dominant. I’ve only played with one other guy like that, Yao Ming, where when he got it rolling, you can’t stop him. Kawhi has been doing this for a month.”

Once I took a plane between Hong Kong and Beijing and the tallest group people I’ve ever seen outside of a basketball game walked down the aisle. Women, men: total giants. Then I saw him: a dude so tall it must have been uncomfortable for him to fly. Someone whispered to me that the Chinese national basketball team was on the flight with us. So when I look back, I think I saw pre-NBA career Yao Ming in person that day.

Later, I came across an article about what Yao Ming did when the Shanghai Sharks retired his jersey. Yao took out newspaper ads with a line of poetry by Tang dynasty poet Meng Jiao that reads: “How does a single blade of grass thank the sun?” The poem is about maternal love. Yao was expressing his gratitude for how the Sharks had nurtured him early on in his career. I loved those words so much. I clipped the article and put it in a file. I knew that one day I’d write a short story with that title. That’s how my book got its title. Those words are also a salute to all the writers who made me, their books that shaped me. People like Wayson Choy, Evelyn Lau, SKY Lee, Joy Kogawa, and Fred Wah paved the way for me to become that blade of grass, able to thank the sun.

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