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Yao Ming: NBA put me in Hall of Fame 10 years too early – and sport in China is decades behind US

Chinese basketball star Yao Ming has admitted even he was surprised by his early induction into the NBA’s Hall of Fame, saying it came 10 years too early.

The former Houston Rockets star was inducted this year, prompting some critics to suggest his inclusion was pandering to the China market.

In an interview with American TV show “In Depth With Graham Bensinger”, Yao admitted he did not feel he belonged in the same class as fellow inductees Shaquille O’Neal and Allan Iverson.

“Somebody else voted for me,” said Yao of the criticism. “And it reflected me back to… the first time I was selected as starting in the All-Star Game. And everybody said Shaq should deserve that and not Yao. And I agree with that, but it’s not my choice. It’s like that…

“Honestly [the Hall of Fame election] is a surprise … I think maybe I can play until 36, instead of being elected for the Hall of Fame at 36 years old.

“I think that the … names in the Hall of Fame’s wall are so beyond me, honestly. And look at the same class: Shaquille O’Neal, A.I., they all did a remarkable job in their career and after their career.

“So I think I’m not there yet, in my opinion…”

Bensinger asked: “Did you not think you would be elected?”

Yao replied: “Maybe not that early. Maybe another 10 years or so. I know a lot of guys on the waiting list for so many years, maybe some guys don’t even see it when they’re still alive.”

In the interview, Yao also reveals that he no longer has any feeling in his left foot, talks about the absence of privacy when you’re 7’6” (2.286m) and says Chinese sport is still decades behind the US

“Back to 60 years ago our country is… still underdeveloped,” says Yao of Chinese sport.

“After World War II, the Civil War… everything is waiting for rebuild… Sports probably had to take a backseat a little bit for a little time.

“Unlike the US, where sports is part of the education … We have that now, but obviously still maybe decades behind [the] US programme.”

Yao gave an insight into the gruelling training he faced as a teenager in China’s military-like sports system.

“The junior team of the Shanghai City think I’m good enough and draft me to the next level. So from there, I have very minimal education time, but a maximum of practice time…

“My first six months were really, really hard: 10 hours a day for six days a week.”

“[I was] 13 and a half… You can think of a boot camp for the military.

“You know, the first couple months they train really, really hard; not trying to find the good guys but trying wipe out those who didn’t qualified.”