Without Yao, does NBA’s profile in China shrink?

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Yao Ming was the face of David Stern’s dream of NBA globalization.

The 7’6” center was an eight-time NBA All-Star — a few of those years he actually deserved it — and a huge presence in America and China. Basketball is booming in China and Yao was a big part of that and the reason the NBA was able to start making inroads in the world’s most populous nation.

But now that he is gone, will China look away? Some people told the Associated Press yes.

“What’s the point of watching NBA now?” asked an online user called Lubingxia on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like site.

An online poll on Weibo by Monday lunchtime showed that 57 percent of respondents would stop watching the NBA after Yao’s retirement…

“It is Yao Ming who makes the kids in China like basketball and it’s also Yao Ming who makes the kids know how a real professional basketball player should be,” said Xu Jicheng, a longtime basketball commentator.

With younger generations, other NBA stars have made inroads — Kobe Bryant has sold more jerseys in China than Yao in recent years. The NBA has its foot in the door for future stars to walk through. What Yao did was open the door in a way that Yi Jianlian could not have. While some Chinese may now turn away, many will not.

There will never be another Yao Ming. But what he did for the NBA in China and other countries will not ever be changed.