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December 6, 2011

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Fulfilling all roles a tall order for Yao

FORMER NBA All-Star center Yao Ming said yesterday in Shanghai that he's still working hard to strike the right balance in his busy, post-retirement life.

These days Yao is filling widely diverse roles: world-celebrated sport icon with lots of honorary titles and duties, the father of a toddler girl, a boss overlooking his money-losing basketball club and now a college freshman closely pursued by the media.

"Well, I have been living under quite some big pressure lately," Yao told reporters when asked to comment on his recent life.

His interview yesterday morning coincided with a ceremony to announce his appointment as vice president of the Shanghai Public Diplomacy Association, a government-backed organization to enhance international communications.

He was also named the organization's honorary ambassador. He's preparing to perform his new duties soon, and they come on top of a list that already includes being Shanghai's image ambassador.

Yao said he keeps very busy but will continue trying to find a good balance multi-tasking his many roles.

"I lived in the United States for eight years. I understand sports as an inseparable part to boost communications between different cultures. I am looking forward to using my influence to improve Shanghai's communications with foreign cities," Yao said on the stage of the ceremony.

But he appeared tired after stepping off the stage, managing to squeeze a few minutes from his tight schedule to sit for a media interview. As boss of the Shanghai Sharks, he had rushed back from an out-of-town forum addressing development of basketball in China to watch his team play a game on Sunday evening. But his team was beaten 118-99. The loss ended a season-long streak that the team would always win when Yao was present.

It has been two years since Yao purchased the Shanghai Sharks, the team he played for before joining the NBA's Houston Rockets. The team's continuous red-ink status is pressuring the boss. Yao said yesterday his management team is mulling ideas to curb the team's business losses.

Extra pressure is also coming from Yao's latest identity as an economics major at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. It has been a month since Yao enrolled but the media hasn't loosened its grip. "Reporters and photographers are still trying to follow me around on campus," Yao said.

He urged the media to save some space for his school life and to "pay due respect" to his circumstances. Yao is not granted any lowered standards in pursuit of his bachelor's degree.

"I really need to hurry up to catch my noon classes," Yao said to a friend. "I have already left some fast food in the car. I would just take some bites on my way to school to save time," he said, frowning while checking his watch.


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