Yao Ming? Moses Malone?

If you had a chance to chat with an NBA star or two, what would you say? If you have had that opportunity, did you regret not saying everything you wanted?

The other day I saw Yao Ming on the news, watching his former team, the Houston Rockets, play. A camera had panned the arena and I was happy to see that Yao looked to be in good health. He’s in town for the All Star weekend, which promises to be a fun event. His parents and the family restaurant are here in Houston and it’s assumed that he comes in when he can. Ming has kept busy since retiring from basketball in 2011. He’s taken university courses and become a vintner. It seems that his company made an excellent first effort with some lovely Napa Valley cabernets.

Several years ago, I had the wonderful experience of sitting next to Yao Ming for an hour. We were filming a spot for a conservation organization called WildAid (wildaid.org). The group is dedicated to ending illegal wildlife trade through public awareness campaigns. It’s motto is “When the buying stops, the killing can too.” (Afterward, I went to their website and signed the pledge to not eat shark fin soup. So, at Chinese weddings and banquets where it’s served, I’ll pass and share with tablemates why. )

The shoot took most of the day, but Yao & Team (or should I say Entourage?) came in later. Joe Grisaffi of Southwest Casting had assembled a large group of students, waitpersons, and other non-actors to simulate a busy restaurant in Asia. It was being shot in the beautiful Landry’s restaurant, Downtown Aquarium. There typically aren’t a lot of Asian actors in the Houston area, so a call went out to all sorts of groups. I do the occasional talent gig so was quite happy to be cast as a principal. (In the group photo below, I’m the one in red.)

Before Yao Ming’s arrival the group received instructions, including no photographs and no rushing the man when he came in. You could feel the excitement, as Yao is such a megastar to Chinese around the globe. His group sat off to the side while everyone else snacked and chatted and made a miniscule effort to not stare.

When everything was set up, we sat down. There were instructions of “Look at the shark”, “Look at the soup”, “Look a little longer”. In between takes I introduced myself and the other table mate, whom I had met earlier. As time wore on, the directions became repetitious. Finally, when the director told Yao to look at the soup, Yao misunderstood and looked at the “Soo.” I did what anyone else would do to help the scene along. With my back to the camera, I made a scrunchy silly face! After the take, Yao looked at me and said he almost laughed. That broke the ice and it became easier to talk. I asked how his leg was doing. The last six years of his basketball career was spent recovering from injuries. With the amount of wear and tear that extremely large frame received, it was not unexpected. His reply was pretty direct. With a slow shake of his head he said, “Not good.” Said he’d just come from physical therapy and it wasn’t healing as well as the doctor thought it would. Now, mind you, this was a day or two before a news release stating that same fact. That was the moment I wished I had said more, that I would pray for him. Sometimes it can be a comfort to know that others will be thinking of you and supporting you.

That was actually the second time I had met an NBA star and wished I had said more. The first was way, way, way back in the days of the Rockets’ Moses Malone. At the time, I was working a talent gig for a builder by the name of General Homes. If you remember Arte Johnson of “Laugh-In” fame, you might remember him playing a general in a series of television commercials. The scene was a dinner party in one of the homes. A couple of the men recognized the towering Moses Malone, so we went over to introduce ourselves. He wasn’t very talkative, so after a few minutes we left him alone. One of the guys said he probably came from a small town and was shy. Later, I was placed next to him at the dinner table. Between takes I tried again to start a conversation. No progress. I was also young and didn’t want to seem pushy. It would have been nice to ask him about his exciting career, but some people like to keep to themselves.  

If you’d like to share your story of meeting a celebrity, please comment!

Click to see: Yao Ming, Shark Fin Soup

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11 thoughts on “Yao Ming? Moses Malone?

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