Image: Ming, Mutombo
Richard Carson  /  Reuters
Knicks center Dikembe Mutombo, right, pressures Rockets center Yao Ming. Ming scored 29 points as the Rockets beat the Knicks on Wednesday.
updated 2/9/2004 10:48:57 AM ET 2004-02-09T15:48:57

Seven-foot five-inch Yao Ming was the NBA's number one draft choice in 2002. For Ming, life in the spotlight as a Houston Rocket is a long, long way from his hometown of Shanghai, China. But in his first season in the NBA, he has played in the All Star Game, shattered identity barriers and earned the respect of players, press and fans around the world -- especially in China.

To some, he is the perfect marketing tool: a handsome, charismatic player who can help companies like Nike and the NBA unlock the world's biggest potential consumer market: China. To others, he is a proud, stereotype-busting product of a nation struggling to emerge as a world superpower. And to others still, he is the embodiment of an elusive dream: to become the rarest of global entities -- a super-rich, super-famous, international superstar.

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer host Lisa Ling journeys to Houston, where she gets to know the affable, intelligent 22-year-old known as "The Great Wall." Then she's off to Shanghai to better understand the unique blend of globalization and cultural exchange that brought this talented center to American basketball and American basketball to the Chinese people.


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