The former Houston Rocket, who got his start with the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanghai Sharks, was elected president of the league this week, making him the first person to take on the role who isn’t a member of the Chinese government.
During his nine years in the NBA—all for the Houston Rockets, from 2002 to 2011—Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming became something of an ambassador of sorts for both basketball and China.
Yao, who retired from the game at a relatively young age due to ankle injuries, is about to take on that role again. Except this time, it’ll be from the executive suite.
This week, the Chinese Basketball Association announced it had elected Yao as its president—the first time the role had been taken on by someone who wasn’t a member of the Chinese government.
The 36-year-old former player, who entered the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, is familiar with the inner workings of CBA. He started his career as a player for the league’s Shanghai Sharks—a team he bought in 2009 when they were facing financial difficulties. (As he takes on his role as president of the league, he plans on selling his ownership stake in the team.)
According to an AP report, Yao already has a number of ideas to help the league move forward, including the addition of scientific training methods for individual teams, plans to boost player education on tactical approaches, and the growth of international exchanges with leagues outside of China.
“Our next move will be to borrow from international advanced experience, to thoroughly study China’s actual conditions and carve ourselves a path of innovation,” Yao said, according to the AP.
The league is at a bit of a crossroads at this juncture: While CBA has proved a successful way for older professional American players to continue their careers outside of the NBA, the league has struggled to provide a similar pipeline for homegrown players, according to the AP report.
It’s something that Yao, with his decades of experience spanning multiple continents, might just be in the place to help fix.