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David Stern once took a jab at Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith for making fun of international players: "When Kenny And Charles first came into the league, they didn't speak english either."

Yao Ming went from being unable to answer NBA-related questions in English to delivering an inspiring speech in the same language 14-years-after.
David Stern once criticised Charles Barkley and Kenny "The Jet" Smith for their on-air take about international players

David Stern, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley

In 2002, the NBA's international pool of players wasn't as widespread as it is now, with the likes of Giannis Antetokoumpo, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic taking it by storm.

At that time, former Houston Rockets big man Yao Ming (who came from the mainland of China) was expected to be the next NBA great. Still, several Hall-of-Famers, specifically Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, thought he'd have a hard time adjusting to the league because of the language barrier that's often associated with international players.

David Stern's subtle jab

In fairness to Kenny and Charles, their theory might have made sense then. Not to discredit Ming (he turned out to be a well-accomplished NBA player), but during his interview, after he was selected number. 1 overall, in the draft, he needed a translator to understand and share his message in English. So that's why the duo that now works in TNT's Inside the NBA weighed in on what could be Ming's weakness.

Moments after hearing what Barkley and Smith had to say, the league commissioner at that time, David Stern, took a subtle jab at both before declaring the 26th draft pick for the San Antonio Spurs on the same night.

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"When Kenny and Charles first came into the league, they didn't speak English either," Stern said in front of the audience on the 2002 Draft night.

In all seriousness, both players didn't take Stern's comments to heart, as they just laughed it off. The point of Barkley and Smith was that it was a risk to draft international players because of the language barrier, but at least Ming proved them wrong.

How Yao Ming developed his English skills

Before declaring for the NBA draft, the 7-foot-5 international prospect (who was the 1st international player to be selected number.1 in the NBA draft) already knew how to speak English but had a hard time answering NBA-related questions in the language. What was impressive was how Ming quickly developed his English-speaking skills, and he credited that to the locker room environment he was in with the Rockets.

"If you're sitting in the NBA locker room for over six months, you'll learn," Ming said, as reported by TMZ in 2006.

Ultimately, the language barrier wasn't a problem for Ming when he entered the NBA, as he turned out to be an 8-time All-Star, 5-time All-NBA player, and most notably, a Hall-of-Famer. What's even more remarkable was that he delivered his Hall-of-Fame speech in straight English as Bill Russell, Dikembe Mutumbo, and Bill Walton sat on stage while he talked.

Yao Ming went from being unable to answer NBA-related questions in English to delivering an inspiring speech in the same language 14-years-after. Safe to say that Ming and Stern got the last laugh over Kenny and Charles. 

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