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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Translator Teaches More Than Words

HOUSTON -- Yao Ming is puzzled about so many things in his new life.

The 2.29-meter (7-foot-6) Chinese basketball star wants to know why drivers in America sometimes wave at other motorists on road. He wants to know what to say when someone near him sneezes. He wants to learn about American music.

Enter Colin Pine.

Pine is more accustomed to translating literature for the U.S. State Department, but he now has what he calls his dream job, translating every word spoken by the Houston Rockets' center and No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

"To me, it's just a great experience," said Pine, whose only basketball experience came in pickup games. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Pine taught English in China for two years after graduating from James Madison University and taking an intensive Chinese language course during a summer in Vermont.

The 28-year-old Pine, who is from Baltimore, had been accepted to law school and was working for the State Department for about a year translating Chinese newspapers and periodicals when a friend told him about a job opening.

The position called for an interpreter interested in working with an unidentified Chinese basketball star. The successful applicant would have to move to Houston.

Pine suspected the job was to work with Yao. He expressed interest, as did 400 other applicants.

"I was assuming that somebody who had an in would get it," Pine said.

He received a call from Yao's agent, Erik Zhang, in early October. He asked if he could be in Houston in time for the player's arrival that month.

Zhang was impressed with more than Pine's skillful handling of Chinese.

"We don't have to worry about him leading Yao astray," Zhang said. "This person is not only going to be a disciplined person, but a loyal person.

"We don't want someone who does not have an impeccable integrity to be involved with Yao. Colin is an honest person. He is a good person."

Pine lives with Yao's family at their Houston home. He drives the 22-year-old player to practice each day, eats dinner with the family and is expected to translate every word spoken to and from Yao.

"I try and explain things to him -- manners, things like saying 'bless you' when people sneeze," Pine says. "When we're in the car, I drive, so when somebody lets us over, I always wave my hand."

When Yao inquired why Pine waved to other drivers, Pine explained the expression of courtesy. Yao has since adopted the practice.

"He is very curious about American culture and wants to learn," said Pine, who shares Yao's love of "sappy Chinese pop music."

"He has been very helpful to me in getting adjusted," Yao said in Chinese and Pine conveyed in English.

Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said it took him awhile to get used to Pine's echo during his conversations with Yao. Tomjanovich said Yao came to the United States with a basic knowledge of English.

"He understands a lot of the stuff that I say, maybe 75 percent, but for basketball probably more," Tomjanovich said.

Pine says he tries not to act too much like an adoring fan. He also tries to keep his relationship with Yao in perspective.

"His life is his life, and my life is my life, and they are intertwined right now and I'm absolutely fine with that," Pine said. "He makes it so easy because he is such an easygoing, gentle person."

Pine admits he is more prone to stress than Yao.

"He is always patting me on the shoulder and trying to calm me down," said Pine, who is uncomfortable in the media glare.

The job is guaranteed at least through this season. If Pine is successful, Yao might not need him next season. Then Pine will be out of a job, and thinking again about law school.

"I'm rooting for him and hoping he can get rid of me," Pine said.