Yao, Iverson tee it up with global glitterati at Mission Hills event
Yao Ming and Allen Iverson went head-to-head on the weekend.
No, the former NBA All-Stars didn't square off in a shooting competition - they played golf at Mission Hills Resort in Haikou, the capital of Hainan province.
"This is always a hard game for me ... but I never knew how hard it was until today," Iverson said after Saturday's opening round of the Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am.
Top: Former NBA All-Star center Yao Ming kicks a soccer ball during the 2016 Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am in Haikou, Hainan province, over the weekend. Above left: Former Liverpool and England soccer international striker Robbie Fowler has fun with a basketball, while (above right) NBA AllStar guard Allen Iverson putts during the starstudded celebrity tournament. Provided to China Daily
"I have a whole new respect for the guys who play professionally ... especially the very talented ones," added the 11-time NBA All-Star, who was drafted No 1 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1996.
"It's a common practice for NBA players to take up golf in retirement. I was never a fan of it the way I am now. I would love to come back to China with my family. I want my family to be a part of something like this."
Like Iverson, Yao struggled getting around the course.
"We talked about how bad our teammates were making us look - they were too talented," said the 7-foot-6 Shanghai native, who was drafted No 1 overall by the Houston Rockets in 2002.
The Mission Hills World Celebrity Pro-Am, which started in 2010 as Asia's first and only pro-celebrity golf tournament, attracted nine international pros, including Gary Player, John Daly, Suzann Pettersen and Natalie Gulbis. Former English Premier League soccer stars, Hollywood celebrities and Chinese movie stars also took part in the weekend festivities.
"The tournament was designed to promote development of golf across the world by inviting celebrities from various sectors," said Ken Chu, chairman and chief executive officer of Mission Hills Group.
China's Li Haotong, 21, who won the European Tour's Volvo China Open earlier this year, delighted the home crowd and collected one of the biggest checks of his career by holding off a late challenge to win the title of the pro event on Sunday.
Like Iverson and Yao, most of the sports celebrities were new to golf.
Luis Garcia, former Liverpool legend, was inspired to play with ex-teammates Robbie Fowler and Gary McAllister.
"I'm pretty new to golf but will be spending more time playing in England," said Garcia.
Added former Manchester United star Paul Scholes: "I was nervous as hell out there. It gets the adrenalin going and gives you the nervous energy that you miss after retiring from football."
Hollywood legends Michael Douglas and Jeremy Renner were among the stars playing alongside the elite golfers for the celebrity title, which was won by Chinese actor Man Wenjun.
Citing the Mission Hills development philosophy of "golf and more", Chu said the tournament would help to promote golf in China and boost exchanges in various industries.
"It is more than a golf tournament. It is all about crossover - in different industries from film to football, and from basketball to Hollywood celebrities," he said.
"Our common purpose this week was to bring the world to China, and China to the world through golf."
Chu was also upbeat about the legacy of the tournament, which was televised to more than 200 countries and regions.
"Whether it was the fans at Mission Hills Haikou or those watching at home, I hope they are inspired to take up golf, because that is what this event is all about, bringing golf to a new audience and allowing everyone to share in this great game."
(China Daily 10/25/2016 page23)