The documentary Year Of The Yao follows the 2002-'03 rookie season of Houston Rockets 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming. The film is produced by NBA entertainment and feels like the DVD that comes with your subscription to Sports Illustrated. If you're into basketball (or film in general), it's always worth seeing it on the big screen. Of course, there's excellent game footage. There's also some obligatory fish out of water moments (see Yao browse at Best Buy!). You also get closed-door practices and supporting talking heads (teammates, NBA Commissioner David Stern, former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich).
Not only did Yao have pressure from the Rockets and the city of Houston, but also China and the Chinese-American community. To many, he was The Great Chinese Hope. Not bad for a kid who made the Chinese national team at 14. Take that, LeBron.
One of the highlights is insight from Yao's interpreter, Colin Pine. Pine is also in his rookie season; in effect, he became a Rocket because of his job. Near the end of the film, Pine says that after a year he felt like he really knew and yet knew nothing about Yao. Unfortunately for this film, we feel the same way. We get some interview footage of the man, but some more would have been more satisfying.
Yao's season was pretty memorable. His first few games were pretty bad - the very first game being here in Indianapolis. Zero points and two rebounds in 11 minutes against the Pacers. Yao was dubbed another big tall stiff. Charles Barkley said he made Shawn Bradley look like Bill Russell. Yao eventually got more aggressive: He wound up averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.74 blocks per game. He held his own against Shaq and wound up starting in that year's All-Star game. Plus, he had one of the better commercials in recent memory ("Can I write a check?" "Yo." "Yao.") and became one of the faces of the post-MJ NBA.
YOTY may not be a film for the regular documentary crowd. Die-hard basketball heads or fans of the Rockets or Ming will dig this film on the big screen. It's also better than the shoe phone.
Matthew Socey's film reviews can be heard on The Art Of The Matter on WFYI 90.1 FM, Abdul In The Morning on WXNT 1430 AM and Steve and Kelly on WTPI 107.9 FM.