The NBA’s Biggest What Could Have Been
Yao Ming will reportedly announce his retirement on July 20th, the
victim of chronic foot problems that have limited him to just five
games over the past two years. Just 30, Ming averaged 19.0 ppg and 9.2
rpg in his nine seasons with the Houston Rockets. So ends the career of
one of the NBA’s more talented and enigmatic big men.
Yao burst on to the scene as the first overall pick of the 2002 NBA
draft, taken by the Houston Rockets. Yao began his career with the
Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association leading the
Sharks to the title in 2001 averaging 38.9 ppg and 20.2 rpg during the
playoffs shooting 76.6 % from the field. Yao was 21-21 from the field
in one game of the finals.
Yao is the son of two professional basketball players, his father 6’7″,
his mother 6’3′. Yao was 11 pounds at birth, twice the average
birth-weight of an average Chinese. Ming took up basketball at age nine
and was already 5’5″ at age 10. Yao joined the Sharks at age 13 and
played 10 hours a day honing his skills with the Shaghai junior team.
Standing 7’6″, many viewed Ming as a curiosity and commentators Dick
Vitale, Bill Simmons, and Charles Barkley all predicted that Ming would
be a complete bust. Barkley went so far as to say that if Yao scored 20
points in an NBA game that he would kiss Kenny Smith’s ass. Yao went
scorless in his first NBA game against the Pacers and averaged just 4.0
ppg and 14 mpg in his first seven starts. Ming then scored 20 points
against the Lakers on November 17th, and Barkley was forced to make
good by kissing a donkey’s buttock on the set of TNT.
Yao went on to average 13.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg in his rookie season
finishing second to Amare Stoudamire in Rookie of the Year voting. Ming
was a unanimous All Rookie first team selection. In his highly
anticiapted first meeting with Shaquille O’Neal, Ming scored 10 points,
with 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks and sealed the deal on an OT win with a
late dunk. Shaq scored 31 with 10 boards in the loss.
Yao was voted an All-Star eight times and was all NBA five times. While
the Rockets consistently made the playeoffs with Yao, they never
advanced past the second round and Ming sustained several of the
injuries that would eventually end his career in the post-season. In
the 2008-2009 playoffs, Ming would suffer a hairline fracture of his
ankle in Game III of the Rocket’s series vs the Lakers, a series that
Houston would lose in seven games.
Ming had a distinguished International career leading the Chinese to
three-straight FIBA Asian Championships. Yao participated in three
Olympics taking the Chinese to the quarterfinals in 2004 and 2008. Yao
carried the Chinese flag in the 2004 Athen’s opening ceremony and
brought the Olympic Flame into Tianenmen Square during the Bejing torch
Is Yao Ming a Hall of Famer ???
Probably not as a player. Had his career lasted another five years, his
HOF credentials would have made his a slam dunk. As of now, he’ll
probably have to settle for a Thurman Munson/Terrell Davis legacy of
great careers cut short much too early.
As a pioneer or life contributor, Yao Ming is a HOFer without question.
While not the first Chinese national to play in the NBA (Wang Zhizhi),
his effect on opening up the NBA to China was profound.
China is now the NBA’s second largest market and with a rabid fan base
that made Yao the all-time leading All-Star vote getter
surpassing Michael Jordan.
Yao has invested well and has even bought his old club the Shanghai
Sharks. He’ll continue on as an Asian sports icon and will most
certainly act as a good will ambassador here in the US. One can only
imagine what might have been.