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There’s Nobody Bigger Than Yao Now

Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post, commenting on the popularity of Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets’ 7-foot-5 center from China:

“Not even [Michael] Jordan arrived in the NBA with [this] fanfare. Consider this: The dignitaries, dozens of them, were gathered in Crawford, Texas, recently for a dinner given by former President George Bush honoring Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

“One by one the VIPs were introduced -- some of them heads of state -- to light applause. But when Yao Ming was introduced, the ovation was loud and sustained, some recall it lasting minutes.

“When it finally ended, Bush turned to Jiang and said, ‘You’re the second-most recognizable Chinese face in America now.’ And that’s the way it will be for the foreseeable future.”

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More Yao: Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe: “There’s nothing quite like the Yao Ming tour. When the Rockets played in Miami, fortune cookies were issued to fans (bad taste and we don’t mean the cookies).

“In Oakland and Seattle, thousand of Asian fans filled the arenas. In Los Angeles, Yao made nine of nine shots, scored 20, and said he liked L.A. because it was ‘close to home.’ ”

Trivia time: Who holds the Laker record for steals in a game?

Heir compare: Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated makes the case that Kobe Bryant might wind up better than Jordan:

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“Kobe has better all-around court sense, a better J and, unthinkably, even more madly creative mid-air Gumbyness than Jordan did.”

And: “They said nobody would ever punk Ruth’s numbers. Then came Aaron. They said nobody would go lower than Nicklaus. Then came Tiger. Just roll the possibility around on your tongue for a second: Kobe Bryant could end up the greatest player in NBA history.”

Neat trick: Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times: “Bad news for the Washington football team, which opens at defending national champion Ohio State on Aug. 30, and it concerns OSU signal-caller Crag Krenzel, the molecular-genetics major.

“ ‘The Buckeyes are set at quarterback next season,’ reports Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle.’ As his senior project, Krenzel cloned himself.’ ”

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Historical outlook: Twenty-five years ago today, Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers became the NHL’s all-time assist leader, breaking the longtime mark of Gordie Howe. In his ninth season, Gretzky picked up assist No. 1,050 in a game against the Kings. It took Gretzky 681 games to surpass a record Howe set in 1,767 games.

Thirty years ago, Robyn Smith became the first female jockey to win a stakes race when she rode North Sea to victory in the Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct.

Trivia answer: Jerry West, 10, against Seattle on Dec. 7, 1973.

And finally: Keith Olbermann of ABC Radio estimates that those 33,000 Air Jordan sneakers, which fell overboard off a container ship and are washing up on the shores of the West Coast, represent a total loss of about $1,000,050 -- "$1 million in merchandise and nearly 50 bucks in materials and labor.”

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-- Mal Florence


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