A chance meeting in Beijing set Chen Yue’s life on a course that would see her become the first Chinese woman to play college basketball in the US
The 6ft 7in woman from China and the NBA executive who gave her a life stood in the lobby of a Salt Lake City hotel last Thursday night. For a moment neither knew what to do. So many things Chen Yue had to say to Richard Smith yet no words came out. What do you tell the man who handed you a dream and never realized what he had done?Chen Yue tried. She wanted Smith to know he’s the reason she’s here. She wanted to say that when he chose her from a group of 80 boys for a basketball team in Beijing seven years ago it was the instant she thought she could be special, that she believed. And that this belief ignited a hope that brought her to the University of California where she is the first woman from her country to play college basketball in the US.
But Chen Yue’s English wasn’t strong enough for her to say these things. She couldn’t express the thoughts that swirled around her head in a mash of Mandarin and English. Instead she walked up to Smith, the director of basketball operations for the Utah Jazz and swallowed him in a hug.
And all she said was this:
"I'm so glad to see you again."
An NBA producer would eventually tell Smith the story of he and Chen is like the movie The Blind Side. Only in this instance Smith was not a parent taking in a football player but a basketball scout picking a team of children in Beijing and moved to choose a then-6ft 1in girl because she worked hard and he wanted to give her confidence.
“She hustled, I thought she should be rewarded for that,” Smith later said.
He never imagined the compulsive act of selecting a girl over a boy would inspire her to push until she found a way to do something no Chinese woman had done before. He never thought a random selection at a youth basketball camp would someday bring Chen Yue close to tears when she said: “Richard Smith starts my dream.”
He was just a guy from an NBA team halfway around the world trying to do what was right. Then he wound up changing a life.