Yao's appearance at the Stankovic Cup is his first game action since he suffered a stress fracture to his left foot in February, ending his NBA season and threatening his star turn as part of China's team.
The injury has caused major concern among Chinese Olympic organizers expecting him to become the face of the games.
Further games are scheduled against Angola and Russia. Yao returned to light training late last month after X-rays and an MRI scan taken in Houston showed his recovery was on schedule, with the foot about 80 percent healed. Such injuries usually take a year to fully heal.
Xue Zhen, basketball editor for leading newspaper Titan Sports, said Yao's appearance at the games served as a massive confidence booster, even if he wasn't 100 percent.
"This is Yao's Olympic mission," Xue said. "His presence is extraordinarily powerful, and the team is build around him.
"Without Yao, China will become a totally different team," he said.