Basketball Legend Yao Ming to Speak at NYU Shanghai 8th Undergraduate Commencement

May 3 2024

President of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and founder of the Yao Foundation Yao Ming will attend NYU Shanghai’s 8th undergraduate graduation ceremony as the commencement speaker on May 19.

“I’m honored to attend the commencement of NYU Shanghai,” Yao said. “Basketball is a common language that connects the world. NYU Shanghai is a multicultural university. I am very much looking forward to interacting with these young people from different countries and cultural backgrounds.”

Shanghai born and raised, Yao began his professional career at age 17, playing for the CBA on his home team, the Shanghai Sharks. He garnered the MVP award in 2001 and led the team to win the CBA championship the next year. He became known on the world stage when he was selected by the Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the 2002 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. From learning to adjust to playing in his first NBA game, Yao went on to make eight All-Star rosters and was named to the All-Star NBA team five times. During his almost decade-long career in the NBA, Yao became one of the most celebrated Chinese basketball players and in 2016, he became the first Chinese national to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Playing for the Chinese Men’s National Basketball Team, he was a two-time MVP at the FIBA Asia Championships, which the team won four years in a row. Beyond his athletic achievements, Yao’s humble demeanor and sense of humor won the hearts of people worldwide.

“For many years Yao Ming has been a role model for young people in many countries, particularly in China and in the US,” said NYU Shanghai Chancellor Tong Shijun, who will present Yao the Medal of Honor at the commencement ceremony. “As a person who has won widespread respect for his outstanding achievements in his professional and social roles, he is most suitable for telling our students about the true meaning of ‘being successful’ or ‘being a winner.’”

Outside of his career in sport, Yao has dedicated himself to social causes. In 2008, he established the Yao Foundation to support the reconstruction of schools in Wenchuan county, Sichuan province, after the area was hit by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Since then, the  foundation has donated funds and launched training programs to ensure more access to sports for underprivileged school children, benefiting five million children and over 4,600 schools in rural China. Yao has also advocated for wildlife protection. He submitted a proposal to the National People’s Congress in 2014 to end the elephant ivory trade in China, which China banned in 2018. In 2016, Yao became an ambassador of WildAid, collaborating with the environmental organization to create public service campaigns and raise awareness on illegal wildlife trade and promote conservation of elephants, rhinos, and sharks. 

Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman said the University is honored to have Yao Ming speak to the graduating Class of 2024. “Over the course of his professional life, he has used his athletic talent, intelligence, sense of humor, and generous spirit to improve every domain where he has worked,” he said. “He has been a model of cosmopolitanism, helping people from different cultures to appreciate all that they hold in common.”

Yao said as a basketball player he looked forward to every opportunity to step on the court to compete. "As for the graduates, they are about to embark on a broader arena where challenges and opportunities coexist,” he said. “I hope that everyone will bravely present themselves on the new stage, seize the day, and live it to the fullest."