When you put Yao Ming’s career up against other Hall of Fame centers in the NBA, it’s legitimate to ask if his credentials stack up against his contemporaries. His statistics hold up, but his longevity doesn’t. Remember, this is a man who only played eight seasons in the NBA, and after his first three seasons, he was as injury-prone as anybody was in the league at the time. But Yao Ming isn’t in the Hall of Fame because of what he did for the Houston Rockets. He’s in the Hall of Fame because of what he did for the game of basketball.
Literally and figuratively, Yao Ming towered over everybody else as one of the biggest ambassadors the game of basketball has ever seen. Nobody has come close to dethroning Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player in the world, but when it comes to a singular force that’s responsible for expanding the reaches of the NBA, Jordan has one peer: Yao Ming.
As great as he was during his brief playing days in the NBA, Yao’s off court achievements is the stuff of legend and worthy of a Hall of Fame enshrinement of its own. Think about it. As a towering yet still precocious 21-year-old, Yao’s burden entering the NBA wasn’t that just of being a number one overall draft pick for the Houston Rockets. He also had to carry the responsibility of opening the game to the largest market in the world, one which at the time was largely untapped.
Yao took on that challenge with the grace and class of a man who knew what his responsibilities were. His very first game in the NBA was broadcast in 19 different networks in China and was watched by around 200 million people…in China. His popularity soared quickly thereafter and every time the Rockets had an important game, or other times like when he played against fellow Chinese player Yi Jianlian in 2007, TV ratings would approach similarly staggering numbers.
Yao was also responsible for growing the interest in the sport in China, allowing foreign players to make a name for themselves outside the NBA. Think Stephon Marbury would get a statue in China if it weren’t for Yao? Same thing with guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and all of today’s current superstars. They became famous on their own, but you’re sorely mistaken if you think they’d be as popular in China like they are now without Yao Ming opening that door for them to pass through.
Former NBA commissioner David Stern once described Yao as a “transformational player” that helped provide an “extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China.” What Stern didn’t mention was that Yao’s influence stretched well beyond China into other countries in Asia like our very own, the Philippines. None of what’s available to us now in this country would have happened without Yao Ming. Sure, other players contributed to the cause, but the biggest reason behind the NBA’s massive and enormously successful global expansion is because of this man.
For that, his entry into the Hall of Fame is as well-deserved as any of the titans he joins in Springfield, Massachusetts.