A 1982 draft pick of the Denver Nuggets, Duffy, who was Boston Celtics star Kevin McHale's roommate at the University of Minnesota, founded BDA Sports Management in Walnut Creek, Calif., more than 15 years ago. In addition to Yao, BDA represents 25 NBA players, including most recently 20-year-old Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. Sports Illustrated named Duffy the 20th most influential minority in sports in 2003.
One of Duffy's lieutenants, Sanders, 38, arrived in sports management from Hollywood. With an MBA from UCLA, he worked for a decade at Trimark Pictures and Lions Gate Films. Sanders is responsible for negotiating Yao's big corporate deals in the U.S. and overseeing his access to the media.
M. ERIK ZHANG
Zhang, who was born in Shanghai but grew up in Madison, Wis., first met the big man in 1996 when Zhang's girlfriend, now his wife, introduced him to cousin Yao. Zhang speaks English, Mandarin, and the Shanghai dialect. He helped put together Team Yao while working toward his MBA at the University of Chicago. Zhang, who is closest to Yao, handles most of the deals in China, including a China Unicom sponsorship. Zhang is still working on his MBA from Chicago.
Huizinga was dean of faculty at the University of Chicago School of Business when he first met Yao at an NBA rookie camp. He struck up a conversation with Zhang during those workouts, and his life hasn't been the same since. Huizinga helped get a group of MBA students involved in creating a marketing plan for Yao, helped negotiate his contracts with the Rockets, and helped strike the sponsorship deal with Reebok. Now teaching economics at Chicago, he oversaw construction of a $125 million facility for the Chicago B-school, which opened on Sept. 23.
This former university basketball coach is Yao's agent in China. The Chinese Basketball Assn. requires that all its players, past and present, be represented by a Chinese-born, government-certified agent. Zhang selected Lu Hao from a half-dozen candidates.
Pine isn't involved in any strategic decisions but spends the most time with Yao, interpreting -- a job he heard about while working for the State Dept. He was selected from among 400 candidates. Pine, 30, lived with Yao and his mother and father during Yao's first year in Houston. In addition to interpreting, the NBA has begun to use Pine for broader issues involving China.