|Former NBA player Yao Ming (2nd L, back) cheers for little players during a basketball match of the eastern division of the Yao Foundation Hope Primary School Basketball Season, in Lu'an City, east China's Anhui Province, Aug. 15, 2013. The basketball season was held to let the children in impoverished regions to enjoy the happiness of sports and grow up healthily. (Xinhua File Photo/Chen Li)
By Sun Xiaochen
BEIJING, Aug. 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Former NBA star Yao Ming is urging society to let sport return to its original function of bringing joy to children, as the country debates the recent failure of the Chinese basketball team in the FIBA Asia Championship.
China's hoops icon Yao remained silent about the team's performance but stressed more attention should be paid to the game's fundamentals.
"Any sports competition originated from a kind of game, and games bring people happiness. That's the simple but profound function of sport - a simple thing that people tend to neglect," Yao told China Daily during the Yao Foundation Hope Primary School Basketball Season in Lu'an, Anhui province, last week.
"On a higher level, the function will extend to more meanings like showing a nation's prowess, which is widely promoted now. But what we lack is just the small joy at the foundation."
The Hope Primary School Basketball Season, a charitable program, carries the star's commitment to benefit students in underprivileged areas through their participation in basketball, which can teach children the virtues of teamwork, leadership and socializing.
Initiated by the Yao Foundation and the China Youth Development Foundation last year, the event reached 79 hope schools (37 more than last year) over a two-month stretch, during which college volunteers instructed children in basketball skills and sports facilities were donated.
As the finale of the season's eastern conference, a six-day training camp and exhibition game were held at West Anhui University in Lu'an, with 370 students from 19 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions joining to share experiences.
Yao visited the camp and organized a group birthday party the previous evening for students born in August.
"Sport is a means for all-around education, and it helps build children's inner strength as well as their fitness," said Yao, who has shifted his focus to boosting sports' role in China's exam-oriented education since retiring from the game in 2011.
Gong Fei, a fifth-grader from Loufan county, Shanxi province, said the event helped him realize his dream.
"We didn't have basketball at school before the event and now we play four times a week. It really brought us a lot of fun and taught us to face adversities bravely."
Although Yao conceded that his personal impact is fading after leaving the court, his responsible public image still attracts support from sponsors and other charity programs.
This year's basketball season attracted 19 donors from world-famous enterprises, disproving claims that Yao's appeal to sponsors has sharply declined.
"Yao's impact as a charity enthusiast will always be there and we expect to deliver our shared value that lets children play more with the cooperation with Yao," said Federico Pricolo, brand director of laundry brand OMO.
NBA Cares, the league's social responsibility program, continued to provide help this year after sending the Los Angeles Clippers' Caron Butler to coach at last year's finale.
NBA China CEO David Shoemaker said: "NBA legends fade away a bit when they retire. I think Yao's star power is as bright as ever, given all the things he has committed to doing off the court."
(Source: China Daily)