Former Houston Rockets Center, Yao Ming, can now call himself a Naismith Hall of Famer. Better than most expected from the big guy, as many so called experts expected him to fail in the NBA. In his rookie season, Charles Barkley said he’d kiss Kenny Smith’s butt if Ming scored over 19 points in one game, the Miami Heat passed out fortune cookies when he first played in Miami against the Heat, and Shaquille O’Neal was accused of being racist towards Ming, needless to say it was a controversial season. His first three seasons proved to be his most healthy seasons as injuries plagued him later.
In Ming’s first game, he grabbed 2 rebounds and scored 0 points. In the big mans first 7 games, he averaged 14 minutes and 4 points. But on November 17th, he scored 20 points against the Lakers, shooting 9-9 from the field and 2-2 from the free throw line, Charles Barkley did have to “kiss Kenny Smith’s butt”, Smith purchased a donkey and Barkley planted a kiss on its backside.
Before Yao’s first meeting with Shaquille O’Neal on January 17, 2003, Shaq said to tell Yao “Ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh”, this bought forth allegations of racism, O’Neal denied racism and said he was joking, Ming also said he believed Shaq was joking but added that other Asians may not find the humor.
Ming was voted to start in the All-star game over Shaq, receiving nearly a quarter of a million more votes. He was the first rookie to start in the all-star game since Grant Hill in 1995. Ming finished his rookie season averaging 13.5 PPG, and 8.5 RPG, he finished second in rookie of the year voting behind Amar’e Stoudemire. He was a unanimous pick for the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He also won honors from prestigious sports magazines, he played al 82 games of his rookie season and started 72.
In his second season he was coached by Jeff Van Gundy, as a result of Rudy Tomjanovich resigning due to health issues. Van Gundy focused on his offense resulting in an improvement. He was elected to start in the All-Star game for his second straight year. He scored his career high, 41 points, in a triple overtime game against the Atlanta Hawks. In his second season, he averaged 17.5 PPG and 9.0 RPG a 4 point per game increase and .5 rebound per game increase over his rookie year.
In the 2004 Summer, the Rockets traded for Tracy McGrady making the time a favorite to contend for the NBA title. Both Ming and McGrady were voted to start in the All-Star game. This particular year, Yao broke Michael Jordan’s record of most All-Star votes ever, receiving 2,558,272 votes. The Rockeys made the playoffs for the second straight year after losing to the Lakers the last year in Yao’s first playoff series.
The Rockets faced the Mavericks and won the first two games, Yao made 13-14 shots in game two, the best shooting performance in the playoffs in Houston Rockets history. The team lost in 7 games, losing by the largest game 7 deficit ever, Yao’s final averages for the series was 21.4 PPG on 65% shooting and 7.5 RPG.
After his first three seasons, Yao had injury struggles. Besides averaging 25 PPG in 2005, he stayed relatively quiet. Ming did get enough votes to start the 2006 All-Star game. He played over 60 games for only one season between the 2005-06 season and the 2010-11 seasom, his last season.
He announced his retirement in 2011 in a press conference in Shanghai, China. He cited injuries to his foot and ankle including his third fracture of his left ankle. Ming was nominated by a member of the Chinese media for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game. He would have been eligible for induction as early as 2012, but he felt it was too soon and requested the Hall of Fame to delay consideration of the nomination, Yao would be eligible for induction again in 2015.
His final stats were 486 games played, 476 games started, 33.5 MPG, .524 FG%, .200 3P%, .833 FT%, 9.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, .4 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 19 PPG. Ming didn’t have as prolific a career as most hall of gamers but he contributed as much or more to the game. It’s a shame his bright career was plagued by injury. Congratulations on making the Naismith Hall, Yao.