Growing up a Laker fan, I’m a fan of the big man. I was weaned on the graceful stylings of Kareem and spent my early adulthood reveling in the brute force of Shaq. In recent years, the fluidity and precision of Pau Gasol and the youthful power and growing polish of Andrew Bynum have given me much joy. I’ll always have a special place in my heart and root for the behemoths of this game.
So today, I’m saddened that the league has lost one of its giants to retirement. Yao Ming will no longer be a member of the league that we all love so much, calling it a career today. The lower leg injuries proved to be too much to overcome.
Though he never wore a Laker jersey, Yao was one of my favorite players. His determination and competitiveness were traits that I admired. I’ll never forget him dragging his leg up and down the floor in the 2009 playoffs against the Lakers. Not wanting to exit a game that meant so much to him and his mates, he persevered through what turned out to be a broken foot, trying to will and skill his team to a needed win. His Rockets ended up losing that series to our Lakers, but my ongoing respect for him was set in stone that night.
His skill level was off the charts. Men his size weren’t supposed to have such touch. Yao could make spot up twenty footers look like pop-a-shots. His jump hook from either block was nearly impossible to defend. He shot turn around jumpers over both shoulders, many dropping through the hoop from that high release point that defenders could only look up to. And his passing was simply superb. He delivered all variety of dimes to his teammates, dropping lead bounce passes to baseline cutters or hook passes to ‘mates diving down the middle of the paint.
Defensively he had his weaknesses in hedging and recovering on pick and rolls and he suffered guarding the quicker face up five men on the schedule that would isolate and try to drive by him. But he protected the rim well, contesting all comers even if it meant being on the wrong side of a poster. What I appreciated most about his defense was that he tried hard to be a great defender even though he was clearly limited by his foot speed and stamina.
But what Yao will always be remembered for was his sheer enormity. Nearly every coach I’ve ever had has said that “you can’t teach size.” Phil Jackson once said that “there are only so many dinosaurs”, and once claimed that if he could have his pick of any player to start a team with in the league, he’d choose Dwight Howard. The true big men that have skill and can play the pivot are a rarity, something that the greatest professional coach ever understood clearly.
Even though we’ve seen this coming for a couple of years, it doesn’t make this any less of a sad day for the true hoop heads around the world. Yao was one of a kind and blessed the league with skill, heart, and class both on and off the court. I’ll miss him and his game and wish him nothing but the best in his post basketball life.
I remember when he came into the league, everyone wanted to dunk on him, and Starbury crossed him over so badly that he fell. He came into the league as almost a giant oversized parity of a man: a 7’6″ Asian man.
I think he broke a lot of stereotypes about Asian men and athletics. (disclosure: I am an Asian man). Sure, there have been Asian players that came and went in the NBA, but none garnered the amount of respect Yao had among his NBA peers. He improved his upper body strength, he banged down low, and by the end of his career, he was never pushed around anymore.
He’s meant a lot to the NBA and has been a boon for David Stern and the Chinese market. I truly hope Yao was able to keep his NBA salary (don’t know how much the Chinese government taxed his income) and live a great life. Maybe he’ll be an American citizen one day, who knows, but he’ll be sorely missed. Oh, and if he feels better one day, he should don a purple and gold uniform. Do it Mitch!
dave m says
One of the most genuine souls in the game. His presence will be missed but he really was too big to be pounding up and down hardwood floors.
Magic Phil says
Not only a great center, but also a great human being. I always dream to have Yao with the Lakers but…
I wish all the best for Yao on his new life outside the hardwood.
Great Wall says
Nice post Darius! We in Houston will miss Yao tremendously. Who would have known when he came into the league that he would turn out to be one of funniest and most well liked players in the league. I can still remember thinking that was going to be one of the worst picks in history. He proved me wrong quickly and I grew to admire the way that he handled himself.
Edwin Gueco says
We also remember Yao’s sportsmanship who keeps his competitive spirit high and fuel his frustrations with clean play and display of perfection on the mastery of the boards. I have not seen him lost his cool against Shaq who made fun of him or clothesline a player like what Drew did to JJ. Too bad, he got into this career ending injuries nonetheless, he played long enough to gain respect from everyone. He is the best gift of China to NBA.
Sorry to Yao go…tuff break.
Yao was indeed a player not great but very good. I think he could have been great if he had been allowed to play in the States from early on in his career and developed more.
He definitely was improving his game. Too bad Houston did not manage his minutes better. Reminds me of another Houston giant JR Richards of the Astros…who was mishandled by that organization.
as an asian-american, i have to admit that I rooted for yao even if he was playing the lakers (as for the game, i wanted the lakers to win, of course).
although i’ve heard too much about him to blindly like him, Yao as a person (without his obligations to China and China’s role in creating Yao) seems very genuine and there is something seriously respectable about a 7 footer who shoots the team’s technical free throws.
I will forever love Yao for this moment.
If Yao stayed healthy and only got one injury or so, IMO he definitely would have changed the direction of the Rockets, and would have been one of the hardest players to over come in any NBA match.
Maybe he’ll play in the Chinese leagues for his fans…
Jon L. says
This is truly a sad day to be a bball fan, even if you weren’t a fan of the Rockets.
Off Topic: Being a life long New Yorker (Harlem) and Yankees Fan, I would just like to congratulate Derek Jeter on his 3,000th Hit. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual. A Class Act through n through.
Yao Ming will be missed! The league mostly belongs to the 6’9″ and under. I think that the league is figuring out that the big guys cannot handle the pounding of playing 82 games. Players that are 7’0 and above capable of enduring the requirements of running up and down on the hardwood are rare. This should make us respect even that much more what Yao and Shaq endured to be able to make the all-star team and actually be on the floor for their teams. Sam Bowie, Alonzo Mourning (kidney), and Greg Odom are all recent examples of the big men whose health problems eventually took them out of the game.
Darius Soriano says
A new post is up.