Didn’t he read the manual? Doesn’t he know this was his chance to hold the franchise hostage and make sure everyone in Dubya’s stomping grounds danced to Yao’s xiao*? To induce GMs around the league to prostrate themselves before his size 18s and shower him with gifts and expound on how magnificent he would look in their uniforms? (Heck, even Tim Duncan went the sampler route.)
To inspire media and fans to speculate and chatter and raise a general ruckus about where he should go and why? (Several sources say Lakers rising exec Jim Buss — son of owner Dr. Jerry Buss — thought he could lure Yao to L.A. but is now targeting LeBron James.)
Yao could’ve been the center of attention for at least a month, if not an entire year, had he played out his option — and, instead, he does this. Quietly negotiates a max extension. Quietly arranges to call from China to make the announcement. Quietly hitches his wagon to a franchise and a market that, quite frankly, are not big enough to fully exploit his worldwide drawing power.
Here’s how it’s done: Keep a checklist of grievances and see this as the perfect time for full-bore payback. Poke fun at those who tagged him a bust before his first NBA game. Steal the spotlight from those who insinuated his All-Star starts are bogus because he comes from a country of 1.3 billion people. (As if that’s something he should be sorry for, especially considering a billion are not believed to have Internet access.) Drop hints about how honored he’d be to follow in the purple-and-gold pivots of Kareem, Wilt and Shaq. That might’ve even induced Phil Jackson to say how much better suited Yao is than the Diesel for the triangle offense. Or how much New York reminds him of his native Shanghai. Or how he might just have to leave the league entirely if the referees don’t start cutting him a little more slack.