The Vertical reports that Yao Ming will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, having won election from a newly formed international committee that took into account his 13 seasons in the CBA and NBA, and his influence on the game in both countries. Because while Yao may not have been the best NBA player, it’s hard to think of many players who were more valuable.
Basketball is huge in China and the Sinosphere in large part due to Yao’s popularity. The very first Chinese star, Yao directly led to hundreds of millions in merchandise sales and TV money, and indirectly led to seemingly sustainable growth in China’s domestic game, with the CBA thriving to the point of outpacing Europe as the go-to secondary destination for American talent. “Nothing can be number one at anything in the world,” said Adam Silver during an NBA tour of the country, “unless it is number one in China.”
But all the talk about Yao’s influence almost does a disservice to his game. There was plenty of doubt when he went No. 1 to the Rockets in 2002, but he proved every bit as good as advertised. A 7-foot-6 dude with a jumper, and a mean streak, and the ability to make his teammates better, and a genuinely great head for the game. Those Yao/T-Mac Rockets were so much fun. Let’s remember some Yao.
Yao’s career was shortened thanks to chronic foot injuries, which were sadly more expected than surprising—guys that tall just don’t last that long. We were lucky we got Yao for as long as we did, though it’s shocking to realize he’s still just 35 years old.
The official announcement is expected to come this weekend, and it’s not a reach to assume nominees Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson will join Yao in the class of 2016. Goddamn, I’m gonna go watch some highlight videos of all those guys.