Yao Ming to debut in Chinese animated film

NBA star previously voiced episode of 'The Simpsons'

BEIJING -- Having appeared in a documentary and played himself on "The Simpsons," Houston Rockets star Yao Ming finally gets to voice a whole different character for an upcoming Chinese-language animated film.

The Houston center will also spend time on the court while back in China, leading a basketball camp next month for Asia's top young players.

But first, Yao plays the father of the main character in "The Magic Aster," a traditional tale of good versus evil that promises to be rather more earnest than the famously irreverent Simpsons.

Taiwanese model-actress Lin Chi-ling and Hong Kong singer-actor Leon Lai also feature in the entirely Chinese movie production, which premiers June 19, the official China Daily newspaper reported.

"A lot of animation produced in China is very good and I hope children can enjoy this one and pass on traditional Chinese culture as well," Yao was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Basketball without Borders' Asian program, jointly hosted by the NBA and the International Basketball Federation, will select 50 of Asia's top under-19 basketball players to participate in a 4-day camp in Beijing from July 30-Aug. 2 under the tutelage of NBA coaches and players.

"I'm elated to ... have the opportunity to witness first hand the change this program can make in the lives of youth both on and off the court," said Yao said in a statement.

With a huge NBA fan base already in China -- mainly thanks to Yao -- the league has entered into several ventures in the world's most populous nation to develop players and build arenas to NBA specifications, all in the hope of further tapping into China's colossal consumer marketplace.

Basketball without Borders, which began in 2001, will hold regional camps in Beijing, South Africa and Mexico this year. Mexican forward Eduardo Najera of the New Jersey Nets will conduct the Mexico City camp, while Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard will lead the South African camp, joined by Olympic teammates Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer.

Yao returned to his homeland after pulling out of the NBA playoffs with a broken left foot. Along with his movie commitments, the 28-year-old has been taking part in events for charities he supports, including his own Yao Ming Foundation, established after last year's devastating earthquake in Sichuan.

Yao starred as himself in the 2004 documentary "The Year of the Yao," then provided voice-over on the 2004 Simpsons episode "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass," in which he hires Homer to choreograph his victory dance.
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