The crude forms of weight lifting practiced in China — squats, for example, were performed by lifting a teammate on your back [TC: how’s that for the Ricardo Effect?] — were off-limits for Yao…
…the Shanghai coaching staff in fact protected Yao as if he were a priceless Ming-dynasty vase. During most of his first two years at Meilong, the fragile recruit only joined the vets of the junior team for the low-impact shooting and dribbling exercises. Once the practices moved into fast-paced drills or full-contact scrimmages, coaches pulled him off the court…"…we gave him lighter workouts to slowly build up the strength of his heart and lungs."
I had not realized that Yao has been prodded, tested, measured, and virtually controlled since his childhood. There is more:
In Yao, Wei had found the ultimate guinea pig on whom to test his theories about human growth and athletic performance…The rumpled researcher tried to accelerate the usually unhurried processes of traditional Chinese medicine…If those who helped engineer Yao’s growth were proud of the way they harnessed traditional Chinese medicine, they showed reluctance to discuss a much more sensitive issue: rumors of the use of human-growth hormones…
Wei claims to have made Yao several inches taller, while noting, perhaps correctly, that his secret concoctions "would pass any NBA drug test."
That is all from Brook Larmer’s fascinating Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Superstar. If you want to know where China is headed over the next twenty years, this book is one of the better places to start.
In a related post, Matt Yglesias made a good point:
Yao is never going to be just like Patrick Ewing. He’s taller and skinnier and more Chinese.
I have a simpler theory: being taller than 7’1" is a disadvantage on the basketball court. My second theory is that Yao will have to retire by the time he is thirty years old.