On the road with the Houston Rockets

BEIJING, China Friday, October 15

The airport security guards just couldn't help themselves. Neither can the some of the local journalists. Professionals in their day jobs who, in the face of Yao Ming, become fan boys. Instead of securing the grounds or asking the questions, they have their cell phone cameras in hand, ready for that quick picture with Yao.

Such is the reality of the NBA China Games featuring the Rockets. Game 1 in Beijing was a success, with Yao pushing his minutes and a heady win by the Houston Rockets over the New Jersey Nets. The team celebrated by visiting the Great Wall of China. Yao Ming wasn't there, but who can blame him. The schedule has been grueling. The handful of Rockets who did travel to the Great Wall were amazed by the sight.

A late night flight on Thursday brought the weary team and guests to Guang Zhou. It's been a tough few days. Press appareances, practice, sponsorship requirements and two games have been squeezed into just five days. The Rockets, though, are powering on. The teammates want to do this for Yao. You can feel it. They respect him, and they want to help him make his homeland proud.

Who knows if Yao and his fellow Rockets can pull out another win. That will be decided on the court this Saturday. But off the court, there is no doubt who is China's hometown team. Houston Rockets, all the way.

Wednesday, October 13

Kevin Martin led the Rockets with 18 pionts and Yao pumped in 9 more as the Rockets won their first of two preseason matchups with the New Jersey Nets, 91-81. The two teams play again tomorrow in Guangzhou. [GAME RECAP]

Tuesday, October 12

One of the world's biggest sports stars has returned home, if only for five days. Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the headliner at the 2010 NBA China Games. The expectations are enormous, not just from sports fans, but from the world's most populous country. Yao is expected to lead the team, and his country's hearts, through two preseason games against the New Jersey Nuggets.

Getting to China is an arduous task. The Rockets played a preseason game on Sunday. Immediately after the game, the players, the cheerleaders, Clutch, and a select group of VIP guests boarded a charter plane Sunday night from Bush Intercontinental Airport. A midnight departure and six hours of travel landed the group in Anchorage, Alaska. A change of crew and twelve hour journey later, we were in Beijing early Tuesday morning.

All the Houstonians were a little dazed by the time change and the hectic schedule. We immediately went to work, traveling to Tiananmen Square, Ho Hai, and a few other Beijing landmarks. Tuesday afternoon, a few Houston Rockets and Yao Ming held a press availability. More than 100 members of the Chinese media scrunched into a room, eager to hear from Yao. The Rockets brought out Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks first, but it's clear the event wasn't about them.

Everyone was waiting for Yao. Finally, the big guy emerged. Yao was asked everything from how prepared is he (as best as he can), to who's taking care of his baby daughter in Houston (Yao's parents.) Yao admits the pressure is intense to perform in his homeland.

The evening was spent at another reception, where both the Nets and the Rockets teams were introduced to VIPS. In China, even coat and tie events have very little decorum when Yao Ming is involved. Cell phone cameras were everywhere, and many guests toted basketballs and posters for players to sign.

At last check, scalpers were asking more than a thousand bucks for good tickets to Wednesday night's game in Beijing. We'll be on the court to watch the action, before heading to Guangzhou for game two.

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