Tonight, Yao Ming will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, to be permanently and officially considered one of the greats.
From the late Moses Malone to the recently departed Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets have a legacy of greatness at the center position. The team was led to its two championships by perhaps the greatest center of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Despite his career being limited to just nine years, Yao Ming successfully etched his name in history with his work on and off the court. Tonight, he’ll be rewarded for his efforts.
The primary reason, according to most, for Yao being inducted to the Hall of Fame is his role in bringing the NBA to China and helping to make basketball a global sport. He was the first Asian player to be the number one pick in the draft, and there has yet to be another. There are now hundreds of millions of basketball fans in China thanks to the big guy. Effectively, Yao bridged the gap between the NBA and the far east.
While all of those accomplishments are notable and worthy of a Hall of Fame bid, people are quick to forget how dominant Yao was on the basketball court. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports addresses this topic at large, reminding fans that The Great Wall was once the best center in the league. Many Rockets fans (including me and I shall not be swayed) hold tight to the belief that injuries alone prevented Houston from winning a title during the Yao/McGrady era.
"For a small turn there, Yao was at the very least in the conversation for the best player in the league. For stretches in 2006-07 and 2007-08, in between injuries, Yao was a dominant force in the scoring and rebounding ranks for the Houston Rockets, pumping up double-figure rebounds and over 25 points on average. At worst, he was in the argument alongside Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and the all-around play of a burgeoning LeBron James."
Yao’s on-court dominance and off-court accomplishments aren’t the only reason he’s worth appreciating. He’s one of the most beloved players to ever come through the Rockets’ organization. To that end, Steve Francis wrote a piece for the Players Tribune on his lasting friendship with Yao.
One of the first times we talked in those first weeks Yao was in Houston, I remember walking right up to him and telling him to cut through all the noise. I had watched his game tape. I knew he was a serious talent, and not just hype.
“We need you,” I said to him. I asked his translator to explain what I meant: All the extra hype was just that — extra. I was looking forward to getting down to basketball. That was all that mattered.
Most of you know Yao the public person. But I was always more interested in Yao the basketball player, the teammate, the private person. I was lucky enough to get to know that side of him. It was a side most people didn’t see.
Nowadays, James Harden is constantly criticized for his lack of leadership with the Rockets. I’m quick to defend The Beard, but it’s easy to appreciate Yao’s quiet and humble demeanor in the midst of Harden’s controversy.
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Speaking of his humble demeanor, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle wrote on Yao’s reaction to being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He’s taken it all in stride, giving credit to his teammates, coaches, and opponents for helping him to reach such an accomplishment.
"“When walking in this Hall, for the first time, I feel I’m so small,” the 7-foot-6 Yao said. “I don’t know if Shaq agrees with that. I feel so small when I look to the rooftop (at) all the pictures around here. I see my picture up there. With all those pictures up there, I can’t stop myself to think how small I am.”"
Slim are the chances that the Houston Rockets, or any other team, come across another player like Yao. His combination of height, skill, and leadership is rare to the point where he is one of a kind. With the NBA’s culture moving farther and farther away from low post play, Yao Ming may end up being one of the last great centers for a long, long time.
It’s only fitting that a player of Yao’s stature, literally and figuratively, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His legacy will be remembered for years to come, and tonight his place in history will be made official.