As part of its participation in the Pac-12 China Game this week in Shanghai, the Harvard men’s basketball team worked with children from the Yao Foundation on Thursday afternoon during the team’s visit to Shanghai Disney. The game’s partnership with the foundation is a new addition to the activities surrounding the contest between the Crimson and Stanford, which will be played at noon on Saturday (GMT+8) at Mercedes-Benz Arena.
“Yao Ming has been perhaps one of the world’s greatest ambassadors for the sport of basketball and he’s been a friend and a great supporter of these efforts to bring the best of US basketball, particularly intercollegiate basketball, to China, to expose the best of amateur basketball in the United States to a Chinese audience,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.
The Yao Foundation was established in 2008 by Yao Ming, the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, an eight-time NBA all-star, and a 2016 NBA Hall of Fame inductee, following a massive earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province.
The Sichuan Province sits in southwest China, approximately 1,000 miles west of Shanghai, Yao’s hometown. The earthquake that struck the area in May of 2008 registered as an 8.0 on the Richter Scale and was the 21st-deadliest earthquake in history, claiming nearly 70,000 lives.
Yao began the foundation to rebuild schools for children affected by the disaster. According to its website, over the past eight years, the Yao Foundation has expanded to focus on “the well-being and development of Chinese youth, primarily with regards to education, health, environmental protection, volunteerism and engagement.”
The Pac-12 is one of many organizations that has partnered with the Yao Foundation. It works alongside the China Youth Development Fund and has received support from the Houston Rockets and the team’s owner, Les Alexander, Reebok, former Houston Mayor Bill White, and NBA stars Baron Davis, Raymond Felton, and Steve Nash.
“It’s an important part of education for our student-athletes and an important part of that is teaching them to be responsible leaders that give back and Yao Ming is a great example of an iconic sports star that has taken seriously the idea of social responsibility and wanting to give back,” Scott said.
Students from the foundation had lunch with members of the Harvard and Stanford teams at the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel on Thursday. Several will also be at Mercedes-Benz Arena on Saturday. Additionally, a portion of tickets sales from the game will go to the foundation.
The Crimson, as part of its trip, closely interacted with students from the Yao Foundation when at Shanghai Disney. THERESA C. HEBERT
“This week I think has been a tremendous opportunity to develop our scholar-athletes,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “Our interaction with the Chinese culture has been phenomenal.”
Yao is an iconic figure throughout Shanghai and all of China. Since retiring from the NBA in 2011, he has worked to give back to his home country through philanthropy as well as various business ventures. Yao has taken courses at Jiao Tong University, a Federation of University Sports of China school involved with the Pac-12 Global Initiative, and purchased his former Chinese Basketball Association team, the Shanghai Sharks.
“We’ve been very inspired by Yao’s vision about being about to use popularity, his status as a role model in China, to bring good and to bring opportunity to children and to bring awareness to causes to improve society here in China,” Scott said. “It’s very consistent with the values that our universities have, which are about training the world’s next leaders, and sport is an important part of that.”
Former UCLA star Bill Walton spent time interacting with children from the Yao Foundation during the teams’ trip to Disney. The children posed for pictures with the teams and had VIP access for a parade down Main Street at Shanghai Disney, for which Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and co-captains Siyani Chambers and Corbin Miller were marshals.
“This is the first year we’re doing it and we’ll look forward to building upon this over the years, but we’re delighted to have a close friendship and partnership with Yao and to support his activities here in China.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.