Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce stated that everybody in the NBA wanted to dunk on former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming.
The Houston Rockets faced a myriad of skeptics when they drafted Yao Ming with the first pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. For one, there wasn’t an established pipeline of players who successfully made the jump from China to the NBA.
On top of that, many in the basketball world viewed the Chinese league as a much softer brand of basketball, which is a label that Yao inherited. Yao became a punching bag, as players around the league set their sights on dunking on the 7-foot-6 prodigy that they were determined to prove didn’t belong in the NBA.
It seemed like every Rockets game became a storyline of which player was going to dunk on Yao, and this especially became a headline whenever Yao faced off against Shaquille O’Neal. This craze was explained by Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce, who recently made an appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast.
Paul Pierce says everyone wanted to dunk on Rockets’ Yao Ming
Pierce stated, “Everybody wanted to dunk on Yao Ming.” What got lost in the hoopla of players trying to posterize Yao is the fact that he became one of the best shot-blockers in the league, as outlined below:
- 2002-03-14th in blocked shots
- 2003-04-12th in blocked shots
- 2004-05-8th in blocked shots
- 2008-09-6th in blocked shots
What also got overlooked is that Yao received MVP consideration during his second season in the league, while also being named to the All-NBA team, and leading the Rockets to their first postseason appearance in four years.
During that same season, Yao also led the Rockets in points (17.5), rebounds (nine) and blocks (1.9), and made the All-Star team for his second consecutive season. It goes without saying but that’s alot to accomplish in one season, and especially in Yao’s sophomore campaign. Yao also played in all 82 games in each of his first two years in the league.
Perhaps Yao’s most impressive season was the 2005-06 season, as he averaged 22.3 points and 10.2 rebounds, while finishing with the 11th-most double-doubles, despite missing 25 games. Yao faced a slew of injuries over the next two seasons, as he missed a total of 61 games during that span.
But the Houston Rockets legend returned with a vengeance during the 2008-09 season, as he received MVP consideration yet again, after posting averages of 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. The Rockets went 53-29, finishing with the fifth seed in the Western Conference, despite being without Tracy McGrady for 47 games.
Yao finished with the ninth-most double-doubles during that season, and the Rockets made it to the Western Conference Semifinals, although they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers within seven games. The Rockets became the only team to push the eventual champion Lakers to seven games during that postseason, leading many to believe they would’ve won the title that season with a healthy Tracy McGrady.
Yao missed the entire 2009-10 season, due to injury, and attempted a brief comeback in the following season, before eventually retiring in 2011. Yao was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, joining a class that featured Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.
In addition, Yao’s number 11 jersey was retired by the Houston Rockets, which shows the mark he left on the franchise. Although Yao was initially perceived as soft, he became a terror for opponents, as he made eight All-Star teams and five All-NBA teams in his eight-year career.
Not bad for someone who “everybody wanted to dunk on.”