Yao Ming was one of the best things to ever happen to the NBA.
But, with the international sensation suddenly retiring Friday, his legacy will be more about being an ambassador for the sport of basketball than his work on the court.
After being drafted No. 1 overall in 2002, and bringing in a massive audience to the NBA from his home country China, the 7-foot-6 monster took the sports world by storm. Unlike many 7-footers, who served more as gimmick projects than real prospects, Yao proved he belonged in the Association.
He went head-to-head with the finest big men in the Western Conference every night, holding his own against the likes of first-ballot HoF’ers Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan. For his career, Yao averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks, with his best season coming in 2006-07 when he scored 25 points and pulled down 9.4 boards a night, but only played 48 games due to injuries.
Yao would continue to slow down after multiple foot and knee ailment, having played in just 160 games between the 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons. He came back strong in 2008-09, putting up more than 19 points per game and suiting up for the Rockets 77 times, but again foot injuries would limit him to only five games in the next two seasons and eventually force Yao to retire.
Yao’s accomplishments were impressive for such a short time in the NBA - eight-time All-Star (thanks in part to the large Chinese fan vote), two All-NBA Second Team nods, and three All-NBA Third Team honors – but fall short against the on-court resume needed to land a spot in the Hall of Fame.
However, because of his instant impact on the game and, more importantly, the way he helped spread basketball to the far reaches of the globe, Yao Ming deserves a spot in Springfield, Mass.