Air Ball The author tries unsuccessfully to make the Rockets' Yao Ming sound like a philosopher

March 29, 2004

by Oliver Chin
Frog, Ltd., $13.95

Oliver Chin's book The Tao of Yao is like one of those
garage-band songs for which the musicians come up with the title
first, then write the lyrics to fit it. Beyond the fact that Tao
and Yao rhyme, Chin labors mightily to find connections between
the ancient Chinese philosophy and the young Chinese center Yao
Ming. This otherwise standard sports bio offers little in the way
of new information on the Houston Rockets All-Star but does
engage in some amusing connect-the-dots. For example, Chin opens
one chapter with a proverb from Lao Tzu: "We join spokes together
in a wheel/but it is the center hole/that makes the wagon move."
That's followed by a quote from Yao: "I will try to grab as many
rebounds as I can, do my best to provide strong support to our
outside players. That's what a center should do." The problem in
drawing such parallels is that Yao's quote sounds less like
Eastern philosophy than the kind of team-first platitudes that
have echoed through locker rooms for decades.

By combing through enough interview transcripts, Chin could
probably find the material for The Tao of Joel Przybilla. Of
course, Tao doesn't rhyme with Przybilla, but what does? Chin's
effort is harmless, and both Yao's affability and the
timelessness of the Chinese aphorisms make the book a painless
read. But it's all a little silly. At one point the author
himself asks what Tao and Yao have to do with each other and
concludes, "The typical Taoist answer would be 'everything and
nothing.'" In this case the typical Taoist answer is about half