Yao Ming’s story is one of titanic possibilities. He was to be the star player to crack open China’s immense market, which would boost the NBA’s profits. The Chinese government viewed as the home grown hero to place China on center stage for international basketball. For the Houston Rockets, Yao was to continue a long line of storied big men to lead Houston to playoff glory. His long train of injuries would curtail the highest hopes of all the parties.
Of course lost amidst all this is Yao Ming himself.
He may never have wholly satisfied all these hopes, but he nonetheless left an indelible mark on the NBA. He wasn’t just the first Chinese basketball player of note in the NBA, he was the NBA’s best center for a solid four-year stretch. Gripes were often made about what Yao didn’t do. His upper body wasn’t strong enough, he didn’t rebound with enough ferocity, he didn’t block enough shots, he never did enough. Somehow people let their own misguided expectations get to their heads.
What Yao Ming did was more than enough. From 2006 to 2009, Yao averaged 22 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting 52.4% from the field and 85.8% from the line. He developed a dynamite spin move. His jump shot was feathery. His hook shot unstoppable. I don’t know what else you could reasonably ask for from a center offensively and on the boards. Defensively, his massive body occupied a tremendous amount of space and flustered scores of driving opponents.
Among centers, Yao led them all in PPG during this period. He was 5th in RPG and in BPG. He also led all centers with significant playing time in WS/48 with .204. Dwight Howard was second with .180.
So, Yao was by most definitions the best center of this era, but his injuries limited just how often he could exhibit this domination. The injuries precluded him from ever attaining a rightful 1st Team All-NBA selection. He managed a full season just once (2009) in this period, but even then he succumbed to leg woes in the playoffs.
The amount of time spent on the court is indeed the one thing Yao never had enough of. We were robbed of seeing one of basketball’s greatest and unique centers operate during his prime for an extended period of time. The appearances Yao Ming did make, however, leave no doubt that he is a Hall of Famer through and through.
Seasons Played: 2003 – 2011
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (2007, 2009)
3x All-NBA 3rd Team (2004, 2006, 2008)
8x All-Star (2003-’09, 2011)
NBA – 486 Games
19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.9 BPG, 52.4% FG, 83.3% FT
39th All-Time FG%