But reading through the heaps of reporting, it is clear that the meaning of Yao’s career is truly in the eye of the beholder. In Chinese newspapers like the nationalistic Global Times, Yao was described glowingly as a “Chinese image ambassador,” who “contributed immensely to the development of the NBA in China, making millions of Chinese care for the game.”
And he certainly helped bring the sport to mainland China:
Chinese endorsement agreements with the likes of China Telecom were also quick to follow, but what was far more astonishing was how quickly the NBA took off in China once Yao took his talents to Houston. It is said today that there are 300 million NBA fans in China, but ones does not need to spend much time here to know how ubiquitous the league has become.
Basketball courts have sprung up all over the mainland, while the streets of Chinese cities are lined with young fans decked out in the jerseys of their favorite NBA heroes. Sprite and Pepsi cans often have NBA players plastered on them, and in the years leading up to the Olympics in 2008, it was difficult not to walk by a McDonalds that did not have at least one Yao Ming cutout draped with Chinese fans happily mugging for a camera.
Although it's not perfect:
An AP article published last week cited an online poll on Weibo that showed 57 percent of respondents would no longer continue watching the NBA after Yao’s retirement.