A reunion between Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming and a boy who, aged nine, was hailed as a national hero for his actions in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, has touched many people on mainland social media.

The world looked on in awe, when, at the Beijing Olympics of the same year, 2.29 metre-tall Yao, held the hand of a nine-year-old boy as they led out the 1,099-strong China team at the opening ceremony parade.

That boy was Lin Hao, who had been hailed as a national hero for selflessly saving two of his classmates after the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Wenchuan county in southwestern China’s Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

Lin was a primary school pupil in Yingxiu town, the epicentre of the quake.

When the earthquake hit, he risked his life to save his classmates in collapsed buildings.

Back together: basketball legend Yao Ming towers over a clearly very happy Lin Hao, who gives a thumbs-up at their reunion. Photo: Baidu

In an interview following the Olympics opening, Yao, holding Lin in his arms, said the youngster was the “hope for China’s future”. He predicted that Lin would remember his great moment and tell his grandson about it.

Earlier this month, 16 years after that great day, the pair met again.

On March 5, at the CBA All-Star Weekend held in Xiamen, in southeastern China’s Fujian province, the 43-year-old president of the Chinese Basketball Association Yao Ming walked onto the stage with Lin.

Lin, now 25, is the part-time deputy secretary of the Communist Youth League of Yingxiu, his hometown, and founder of a start-up e-commerce company that helps local farmers promote and sell their produce.

He also works as a volunteer tour guide in his spare time, telling earthquake and reconstruction stories to tourists.

In January, Lin also announced he was to marry a Tibetan woman.

Lin said he did not expect Yao to remember him, but the moment Yao saw him, he congratulated him on his marriage.

Yao also joked to Lin on the stage: “You have grown taller since then, and I have grown fat.”

For Lin, despite having not met Yao for 16 years, the reunion felt more like an ordinary catch-up with an old friend. He said Yao patted him on the head after the event and told him to “add oil”.

More than a decade and a half ago Lin Hao, now 25, was hailed as a national hero for the fearless role he played in saving his classmates from the devastation of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Photo: Sogou

Yao retired from professional basketball at the age of 30 in 2011 following a series of injuries.

The former NBA star’s transformation to become the leader of Chinese basketball and businessman over the last decade has been considered a success by many.

As the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association from 2017 to 2023, Yao dedicated himself to bringing more market forces into the state-owned national basketball league.

He also promoted youth educational schemes to cultivate more Chinese basketball talent.

The reunion of Yao and Lin was described by many online observers as “meeting at the peak”.

“Lin Hao has also become a good young man now, just like Yao back then,” said one person on Douyin.

“It was like nothing has changed over the past 16 years when they stood together again,” said another.