Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Great Hall of Yao

Yao Ming retired last week.  The asteroid hit and the extinctions continue.  The old dinosaurs keep falling like Pteranodons this locked-out NBA offseason- first Shaquille O'Neal, now Yao- as the great beasts of the low-post exit the game with fewer replacements than ever before.  Yao decided to call it quits after numerous leg injuries forced him to miss significant portions of too many seasons.

Too many seasons.  Yao only played in eight NBA seasons since being drafted number one overall by the Houston Rockets in 2002 amidst hype that he'd offer Shaq a resistant and worthy foe.  Eight injury-plagued seasons isn't a lot of time to make a Tyrannosaurus-sized footprint in basketball's biggest league.  Were those eight years, combined with everything else Yao has accomplished in his basketball life, enough to get Yao into the Basketball Hall of Fame?    

Yao Ming's 7'6 frame was an imposing sight in the paint.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, though inadequate, serves as a basketball fan's resource for information about the sport's history and important figures (I'm not talking about the Miami Heat cheerleaders, though one could argue their figures are indeed an integral part of NBA.com's traffic).  It isn't really about who the best players were in terms of statistics or talent- part of the reason why it's inadequate- as much as it's about your impact on the sport's history.  If somebody thinks about an era of basketball, will they think of you?  Did you do something to promote the sport?

Yao, though an accomplished Olympian individually, lacks medals.  He was not an NBA MVP and only had modest team success in the NBA.  These, along with the missed games, are legitimate black marks.

However, his impact on the connection between Asian basketball and the NBA shrouds the basketball universe of the 21st century.  Kobe Bryant has been huge in Asia for years, and obviously the total globalization of the NBA has made many other NBA stars accessible and recognizable in Asia and other places around the world.

But who else could get a broken down Tracy McGrady all-star votes and appearances he had no business getting?

In all seriousness, you can't think of NBA globalization without Yao Ming.  You can't think of the NBA reaching Asia without Yao Ming.  Yao made Yi Yianlian relevant for a game (their first NBA meeting was watched by over 100 million people).  That's impact.  When Dirk Nowitzki led his team to a title in 2011, it symbolized how far the NBA has reached.  This is the era of basketball globalization, and Yao has been a central figure in it.

Yao has five All-NBA teams to his credit.  He was a 19/9/2 center for his career and held his own against latter-prime Shaq and prime Dwight Howard, the dominant centers he played against.  Yao offered us a rare glimpse into the past when classic back-to-the-basket centers roamed the NBA.  He never got into trouble and always represented the game well.  Even Michael Jordan followed his lead: before His Airness bought Charlotte, Yao bought his former team from China, the Shanghai Sharks, back in 2009.

Like the asteroid that presumably wiped out the dinosaurs, Yao Ming landed in 2002 and made a global impact.  A request to the Hall:  Remember this Rocket.           

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