Props to Yao

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Yao Ming came out and apologized to his team yesterday. So what it exactly did the big one do to merit such contrition? He will miss some pre-season training and a media day because of his obligations to the Special Olympics, which will be held next month in his hometown of Shanghai. Given the sort of behavior that usually leads to an apology from an NBA player–punching a fan, cheating on a spouse, homophobic insults–Yao’s behavior seems like it should be rewarded, or at least the league should drop the automatic $30,000 fine. (The Yao Mania! blog raised the question of his fine last week.) As player fines go to charity, perhaps this one could go to … the Special Olympics.

My favorite hoops players have always been oddball types like Dennis Rodman or Kurt Rambis, guys who can’t really be counted on to score or even dribble but are obsessed with defense, rebounding, chasing loose balls and generally annoying the other team and the other team’s fans. In other words, the opposite of Yao. But I’m starting to appreciate the big man for his off-court moves. Not only does he work with the Special Olympics, something that everyone can support, but he’s taken on bolder causes too, like combating the stigma surrounding AIDS and trying to convince Chinese not to eat shark’s fin. Sure, Yao’s not likely to be joining the small group of NBA players who signed a letter calling on the Chinese government to do whatever it can to urge Sudan to end the crisis in Darfur, but he’s not exactly taking on easy causes either. Now if he could just be that bold on the boards.