Houston Rockets: The 15 greatest centers of all-time

By Tevin Williams
Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets - Hakeem Olajuwon (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) /

. . Center. Yao Ming. 4. 169

Yao Ming was the first overall pick by the Rockets in the 2002 NBA Draft. Standing at 7-foot-6 and weighing in at 310 pounds, he was one of the only players with the size and skill to give Shaquille O’Neal trouble down low.

Yao started in 72 games in his rookie season and averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. He made  the 2002-03 All-Rookie team and was even voted an All-Star in his first year in the league. In the summer of 2004, the Rockets pulled off a blockbuster trade and landed wing Tracy McGrady. With a superstar in the back court and the front court, the Rockets were ready to make some noise in the playoffs.

The Rockets eclipsed 50 wins in the 2004-05 season and 2006-07 season, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, respectively. In the 2007-08 season, Houston won 22 consecutive games and finished the year with an impressive 55 wins.

Unfortunately, Yao suffered a stress fracture in his foot and missed the entire postseason. Houston again lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

In the 2008-09 season, Yao was brilliant once again, but injuries eventually derailed Houston’s season. McGrady underwent season ending knee surgery in February of 2009. Although, Yao led the Rockets to the postseason and Houston finally advanced to the second round.

The Rockets held their own against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals, but Yao suffered a season ending foot injury in the third game of that series and Houston’s season soon followed course. Yao missed the entire 2009-10 season and he played just 5 games in the 2010-11 season before retiring.

In the end, Yao averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds over his career. He finished as an eight-time All-Star and he made the All-NBA team five times. Yao might have been the most skilled player in NBA history that stands 7-foot-5 or taller, but like Ralph Sampson, a career riddled with injuries leaves us wondering what could have been.