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5 places in Shanghai that made Yao Ming
Before he became the NBA's "Great Wall of China," Yao Ming cleaned windows and played videogames. Here are the places where the legend grew
After two weeks of rumors and counter-rumors, it's been confirmed: Yao Ming (姚明) has announced his retirement from professional U.S. basketball.
The 2.29-meter sportsman, the tallest in the NBA since he joined the Houston Rockets in 2002, has been the inspiration for the rising popularity of basketball in China, and particularly in his home town of Shanghai.
I have reported on Yao for most of his 14 years in professional basketball. His departure will be a great loss not just for the sport but also for his fans back home who have watched his rise to fame and fortune.
While we wonder "What next?" for the 30-year-old millionaire, here are some of the places in Shanghai that helped form the man many are calling Asia's greatest sportsman.
Read more: Basketball star Yao Ming retires
1. Humble beginnings
This simple six-story building, located on Kangping Lu, Xuhui district, is where Yao Ming spent his childhood.
The Yaos moved into room 602 when Yao Ming was around two years old. Their one-bedroom apartment could be easily distinguished from the other five on the same floor -- none of their doors had frames.
Yao Ming’s father Yao Zhiyuan (姚志源), who stands 2.06 meters and also played basketball for the Shanghai team in 1970s, had trouble moving around his own home.
The playground behind the building, nicknamed the "Wind and Rain Playground," is where Yao touched a basketball for the first time.
When Yao was growing up in this compound, he wasn’t the dominant force on the court. Yao's friends would often play tricks on the shy kid in Shanghai's alleys.
Rm. 602, Bldg 2, 95 Kangping Lu, near Wanping Lu康平路95号乙楼602室，近宛平路
2. Missing his first basket
This unassuming primary school just off Kangping Lu is where Yao Ming first experienced a shooting competition, when he was in grade one.
The contest ended when the then 1.5-meter tall Yao couldn't even graze the rim. A rival classmate launched an amateurish shot and sank it.
“It was very embarrassing,” Yao told the Xinhua News Agency.
By grade three, Yao's had grown to 1.7 meters, taller than some of his teachers. Soon after he started fourth grade, Yao was made responsible for cleaning all the high windows in the school.
“I used to think, when I was a student, that everything was huge -- desks, blackboards and the basketball court -- but somehow, they seem very small now,” Yao told a reporter from the Shanghai Sports Channel during a visit to his old school.
Gao’an Lu No. 1 Primary School, No. 9, Lane 4, Kangping Lu 康平路4弄9号，近高安路
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3. Normal teenage hobbies
Yao Ming joined the Shanghai Youth Basketball Team in 1993 and checked into his training center in Meilong where he would live and train until he got the call from the National Basketball Association in 2002.
At the Shanghai Sports Academy in Meilong, Yao met his teammate and close friend Liu Wei (刘炜). They were the same height initially, but over the next eight years Liu grew by three centimeters while Yao shot up by another 30.
For nearly 13 years, Yao and Liu spent hours in an Internet cafe next to the training ground playing "Red Alert" and "Counterstrike."
Yao was later assigned to a room next to Liu’s where a tailor-made 2.4-meter single bed was waiting.
This bed became one of the most important pieces of furniture for teenage Yao as a long siesta was listed as a part of his training schedule. Yao's coaches were convinced that the best time for an adolescent to grow taller was during sleep.
Training Center in Meilong, 1333 Baise Lu, near Laohumin Lu白色路1333号, 近老沪闵路
Lawn Internet Café, 1398 Baise Lu, near Laohumin Lu 青草地网吧, 百色路1398号, 近老沪闵路
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4. Home start
Yao made his career debut at the Shanghai Luwan Stadium with the Shanghai Sharks in 1997. His most outstanding season in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) was 2001-2002 during which he broke the CBA records by an average of 32.4 points, 19 rebounds and 4.8 blocked shots per game.
To commemorate his time in Shanghai, a special jersey, three times larger than actual size, was knitted and hung up on January 5, 2003 in Luwan Stadium in front of thousands of cheering fans.
Yao Ming’s commemorative No. 15 jersey is currently on display in Yuanshen Stadium in Pudong, home of the Shanghai Sharks since 2009.
Luwan Stadium, 128 Zhaojiabang Lu, Shaanxi Nan Lu肇家浜路128号，近陕西南路, +86 21 6445 1045
Yuanshen Stadium, 458 Zhangyang Lu, near Yuanshen Lu 张杨路458号，近源深路, + 86 21 5860 2330
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5. Yao makes his biggest play
Yao married Ye Li (叶莉) at the Pudong Shangri-la on August 6, 2007.
Ye was a star player for the Shanghai women’s basketball team and China's Olympic squad, standing 1.9 meters tall. The couple began their relationship in 2000 and first appeared hand-in-hand in the public eye at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.
Yao and Ye held their wedding ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of Pudong Shangri-La Hotel. According to People.com.cn, the towering bride and groom hosted 10 banquet tables for the wedding.
Only very close family members and friends were invited. But each table cost a staggering RMB 12,389 and it was the talk of the town.
To prove his devotion, the wedding guests made Yao hold a bowl with his teeth and give Ye a piggyback ride, mimicking the character Pigsy from “Journey to the West.”
3/F, Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, 33 Fucheng Lu, near Mingshang Lu 富城路33号上海香格里拉大酒店三楼，近名商路
More on CNNGo: Asia's greatest sports heroes
Ai Lu (艾鲁) is a senior basketball journalist who has covered Yao Ming’s life and career both in Shanghai and the United States for the past eight years.