Yao Ming: American Idol

Updated: February 7, 2003, 9:47 AM ET
By By Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine
As harbingers go, this is a doozy. Yao Ming is enjoying his new favorite getaway from the swirl that has engulfed him since he landed in Houston four months ago: slowly circling the Westside Tennis Club's parking lot in his week-old silver Toyota Sequoia. This is the Rockets' practice site. It's also Yao's training ground as a driver, since he has yet to earn his license.

As Yao rolls past the crowd of reporters and onlookers that gathers wherever he appears, he does a look-no-hands maneuver and smiles a smile that needs no translation before pulling into a space and carefully shifting into park. That's when a female Chinese reporter leans in the window. "You can't really drive," she taunts in English. "You just go around in circles."