by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Well, you have to admit, the guy can definitely win a tip.

I mean, Yao Ming didn’t control that opening jump, he knocked it into next season. If that ball were lettuce, it would be salad. If that ball were a balloon, it would land in Oz. If that ball were . . .

Well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, for all his height, Yao whacked the ball right to Chauncey Billups, who doesn’t play on his team. Which pretty much typifies Tuesday night, the inaugural performance of “Who’s Yao Daddy?” at the Palace. The guy was tall. The guy was arresting. The guy, despite a constantly pained expression on his face, was impossible not to watch.

And he made almost as many mistakes as good plays.

Did he dunk? Oh, yeah, he dunked. He dunked one-handed over Ben Wallace and Mehmet Okur, neither of whom can be mistaken for jockeys.

Did he post-up? Oh, yeah, he posted up. He banged and backed in and spun better than a major appliance has a right to.

Did he pass or dribble? Oh, yeah, he passed and dribbled. He is smooth as a distributor, not so great off the floor, although, in fairness, for the ball to bounce from Yao’s hand to the court and back, it has to stop for air.

He scored 20 and grabbed eight rebounds. But he often fumbled the ball, got called twice for traveling, scooped a shot into the bottom of the backboard, and was blocked by Cliff Robinson — on Cliff’s way down.

Personally, my favorite moment came when Yao walked to the scorer’s table while the game was still in play. He stood there watching, until he realized he was blocking the broadcasters’ view. So Yao sat on the table. And he was still blocking their view. So Yao sat on the floor. And his head was still sticking over the table.

Hmmm. Maybe we could invent a trap door.

He needs to be twice as tough

This is what happens when you are 7-feet-5 and come from China and you’re the No. 1 draft pick and do a spot with Mini-Me from “Austin Powers.” People notice. They notice everything. Good and bad.

So this, from Tuesday night — and a few other performances — is how I see the good and bad on Yao so far. (And, remember, he’s a 22-year-old rookie.)

Good: His footwork, his fundamentals, his shooting touch, his passing, his court awareness, and his free-throw shooting. (And, excuse me, but if Yao can shoot that smoothly, tell me again why Shaquille O’Neal can’t?)

Bad: His toughness, his reaction time on defense, his rebounding, his dribbling, his running the court — really small steps — and his toughness.

Did I say toughness twice? Well, he needs to get twice as tough. It’s not like he doesn’t have the body. This is no Shawn Bradley. This is no Manute Bol. Yao is thick in the legs and decent in the torso, considering he hasn’t been in America long enough to sign up for Vic Tanny’s. But the NBA middle is no place for peaceniks. And a guy his size should not be boxed out so often — or driven on so easily.

The Palace gave him a warm reception, and a section of fans held a huge sign in Chinese.

“Did you see the sign?” Yao was asked after the game.

“Yes, I saw it,” he said through a translator.

“What did it say?”

“Some encouraging words.”

“What did you know about Detroit before you got here?”

“The Motor City.”

He paused. “Also, there was a famous movie made here.”

“Really? What movie?”

He paused again, then said something to the translator. They went back and forth. It sounded like “Zhechichech.” Then “Zhechichech?” Then, “Zhechichech.”

Finally, Yao turned to the reporters and spoke English.

“Robocop,” he said.

Ahh, well, why didn’t you say so?

Pistons had a good plan

Now, lest we forget where we live, a moment here for the Pistons, who not only had a pretty good plan for Yao — Wallace and Okur, plus Michael Curry racing over to double-team — but also snapped out of their West Coast nightmare, winning, 96-83. Bye-bye, seven-game losing streak. Hello, long home stand. The Pistons won with Rip Hamilton dropping a dead-eye shooting night and Billups continuing to be the best pickup since black coffee. They did it with Wallace and Robinson rebounding and with the welcome return of Jon Barry and his jumper and his aggressive game.

Mostly, as always, they did it with defense, and since the Rockets boast Steve Francis and Yao — a Mutt and Jeff of the hardwood — that’s no small feat.

Still, in fairness, nobody did what Yao did Tuesday night. I’m not talking shooting, I’m not talking dunks. I’m not even talking Robocop.

Here’s what he did. At the end of the night, whatever money he had earned, Yao had to send half of it back to China. That’s the arrangement for him playing in the States. He gets a dollar, they get a dollar.

Which explains the pained expression.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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