Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most dominant big men in NBA history. O'Neal was a true powerhouse but also had incredible speed and athleticism. This made him a very dangerous player to try and stop. Shaq's dominance also came with some trash-talking. But on one occasion, O'Neal seemed to have crossed the line.
Shaquille O'Neal once mocked Chinese sensation, Yao Ming, by poking fun at the Chinese language in a derogatory way. O'Neal was criticized significantly for his comments, as they came across as very disrespectful to the Chinese community and very demeaning.
"Tell Yao Ming, ‘Ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh,’ ”
Shaq had to issue an apology, and clarify that he did not have any negative or hateful intentions behind his comments. He took full ownership for his disrespectful comments, apologized publically to the Chinse comments for any hurt he may have caused them, and also clarified that he is not a racist.
Yao Ming didn't seem to mind, at least not publically. He understood that Shaq was kidding, and suggested that the fallout from the joke was probably due to the disconnect between the two cultures at play.
Shaq: “If I offended anybody, I apologize... To say I’m a racist against Asians is crazy, It’s probably [someone] just trying to start trouble... I’m an idiot prankster. I said a joke. It was a 70-30 joke. Seventy percent of people thought it was funny, 30 didn’t. At times I try to be a comedian. Sometimes I say good jokes, sometimes I say bad jokes. If I hurt anybody’s feelings, I apologize.”
Ming: “I believe Shaquille O’Neal was joking with what he said, but I think a lot of Asian people don’t understand this kind of joke. I think there are a lot of difficulties in two different cultures understanding each other, especially countries of very large populations, China and the United States. The world is getting smaller and has a greater understanding of cultures.”
And almost 2 decades later, Shaquille O'Neal reveals that he went one step further to try and apologize to the man he seemingly tried to insult with his comments; Yao Ming. During an appearance on Hot Ones in 2019, Shaq told the story of how he tried to apologize to Yao Ming for his comments (12:43 mark).
Shaq noted that his father told him how Yao Ming had idolized him and that his comments directed at him broke Ming's heart. Shaq's father instructed him to apologize. And in order to make it up to him, Shaq revealed in 2003 that he learned how to say 'I'm Sorry' in Chinese.
“He’s (Shaq’s father) like ‘man, this kid’s been idolizing you. I didn’t want to tell you, but he’s been idolizing you, been writing letters. Show them a little bit more. My father was very upset. He said ‘you need to show this young man’. So when I got home, he used to send me Christmas cards. So every time I go to China, I just try to reach out to him."
“Toy-inchee, Toy-inchee... Chinese, for ‘I’m sorry.’ For when I see Yao Ming.”
Clearly, Shaq meant no harm by his comments. And as mentioned above, Yao Ming didn't really feel too bad about these comments, at least not publically. Ming and O'Neal actually formed a pretty strong friendship. The two went at it during their time in the NBA.
Ming never became the bonafide megastar that he was supposed to be. Despite being one of the tallest players in NBA history, Ming wasn't able to win the Houston Rockets an NBA Championship. But Ming was a sensation, one of the most popular players in the NBA.