Artest vs Yao: The Hilarity Is Just Beginning

July 31st, 2008

By: Bill Ingram


It's always best for two people to sit down together and have a face-to-face conversation rather than play "He Said/He Said" back and forth through the media.

In this case, we're talking about Yao Ming, who is in China preparing for the Olympics, and Ron Artest, who is in America preparing to move to Houston. A reporter asks Yao what he thinks about Ron Artest joining the team, then gets into specifics about certain situations, and runs the series of answers together to give readers a feel for what Yao's feelings on the subject are.

The first thing to understand about Yao is he doesn't give long, detailed answers to questions in English. He will answer your question and answer it completely to the best of his ability, but he rarely goes off on tangents or give nuanced answers. His English has improved radically since his rookie season, but it's still not anywhere close to complete mastery. When you see him give a two-part answer understand that he was asked two questions and the answers were put together.

For instance, if he were asked specifically about the brawl between the Pistons and Pacers, he would respond very specifically to what was asked.

Here's a quote from an interview Yao did with The Houston Chronicle:

"There's worry. Obviously, yes," said Yao. "We will think about it, of course. Hopefully, he's not fighting anymore and going after a guy in the stands."

A specific question was asked here; something to the effect of: "Are you concerned about Artest's involvement in the brawl, where he was fighting with a guy in the stands?"

Yao responds very specifically and using much of the same language that was used in the question.

Don't mistake this for someone asking him what he thought of Artest and him saying he was worried Ron was going to fight people in the stands.

So it's important to understand the context of questions and the way Yao answers them in English. It's very specific, and always a direct response. He will never, never try to make someone look bad.

Second, you have to take into account the code of personal accountability and honor in which Yao was raised. Remember how Yao wouldn't dunk the ball when he first came to the NBA because he was worried that it might make his opponent look bad? This is not a guy who's going to easily overlook the kind of behavior we saw from Artest in Detroit . . .or, frankly, the other antics we've seen from Artest in the past. Yao conducts himself with the utmost discipline at all times, always concerned with how his own behavior will reflect his country and his culture.

"I understand what Yao said, but I'm still ghetto," Artest said in the same article. "That's not going to change. I'm never going to change my culture. Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don't think he's ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture."

See the difference? Artest says exactly what's on his mind without worrying about how it might be perceived. If he ticks people off, he shrugs it off as people not understanding his culture. And he might be right. There are no more juxtaposed cultures that Artest's self-described "ghetto, black" culture and the prim and proper Chinese culture.

Does that mean they can't get along?

Absolutely not!

All it means is that these two will be better off once they've had a sit down, face-to-face conversation. Once they understand their common language: basketball . . .and their common desire: to win an NBA championship . . .they'll become fast friends, or at least friendly colleagues.

"Once Yao Ming gets to know me, he'll understand what I'm about," Artest told the Chronicle. "But really, he doesn't have to talk to me, because to me, I'm going (to Houston)."

"I haven't talked to Ron yet, so it's hard to say," said Yao. "I have to find a way to talk to him and see what we can do as a basketball team. He has a history. But we know he is a physical player. He is a good player. He really can help us."

Does that sound like two guys who won't get along?

Ron Artest is going to be a Houston Rocket, and at some point in the very near future he'll sit down with Yao and talk about the big picture. Once these two world-class athletes understand each other's desire to win, everything else will fall into place.