Well, Yao Ming’s career is officially over. Ming’s unceremonious exit after a turbulent career leaves his standing in an odd place.You’d think things shouldn’t have ended this way for one of the league’s biggest worldwide names. His NBA entrance, after all, grabbed headlines and excessive media attention towards the peculiar big man. Yet as the saying goes, things don’t always go according to plan and the “Dynasty” resembled anything but an imposing reign.
My intention here isn’t set on dropping a slew of inopportune pot shots. Something still has to be said about how his standing would’ve reached new heights in today’s game. Sideways-talking commentator and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said during the 2011 NBA Draft that Yao Ming would have been an elite figure in today’s league. I’ve often found myself at odds with Gundy’s assessments. This time I don’t have an honest rebuttal.
Gundy’s words need some context. The league is smaller and faster but its new pace comes to the detriment of developing skilled centers. Let alone centers capable of defending the paint. Moreover, teams still need half court scoring to consistently compete. Thus, it’s plain to see Ming probably exhibiting nightly clinics on hapless defenders. There aren’t many squads capable of playing him straight up in the post and he had some range via his mid range catch and shoot jumper.
Additionally, let’s imagine Yao’s piece in Houston puzzle rife with chemistry. Kevin Martin already stretches defenses out with his perimeter scoring. Just imagine how potent he’d be would be if Yao effectively hit him out of double teams. Even Kyle Lowry and Courtney Lee can shoot the three a little bit, adding more scoring opportunities to offset Yao’s presence on the block. Ming’s high shooting percentage inside along with Scola’s terrestrial, savvy offensive game would’ve made Houston a problem on all fronts. They would have easily gone beyond the first round and perhaps even past the second: depending on conceivable match-ups.
Yet one must see Yao’s run in actuality for all the should’ve-could’ve-would’ve surrounding it. He never looked “comfortable” on the court. Granted, asking a 7’6,” 310 pound center to wing it is a tall order. At the same time it appeared evident his lacking drive, tenacity and heart stymied his development. Yao’s frame and skill set lent him to be a unique force on both ends. We instead got was a really tall guy who blocked shots but didn’t attack the boards or dominate the paint. I didn’t expect him to be an enforcer but he ostensibly didn’t intimidate match-ups like other top performers. He had talent but, as many players before and after him can attest, aptness will only get you so far.
The 08-09 Western Conference Semifinals signaled the beginning of the end for Yao. Houston pushed the eventual champion L.A. Lakers to Game 7 while Ming hurt his knee earlier in the series. Brewing over Houston’s sole second round berth last decade, the estranged relationship hipped me to the trend suggesting his decline wasn’t far off. He played 77 games that season but his numbers, while decent, didn’t match his output in injury riddled seasons beforehand. Meanwhile the Rockets’ core gelled unexpectedly well and had hope for the future. Concurrently, Yao’s year long absence in 09-10 and 10 game 10-11 season all but assured his long term spot on the team.
Yao Ming’s undeniable contributions as an ambassador for international basketball give him a unique edge to his profile. Too bad his body regrettably succumbed to the rigors of NBA and international competition. Fans ultimately witnessed a guy with scoring prowess without the focus and wellness to truly set him apart. The aforementioned points always stuck around when I saw him play and obstructed my sense to cheer him on.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t peg his career as a total failure. Yeah, he got All-Star game appearances a few times too many and i’ll never forgive him for “guarding” Marbury Marbury or for Nate Robinson punking him out. Conversely, he had stretches where everything clicked and began realizing his potential. Yao Ming’s career resembles the glass half empty, half full metaphor, except the glass is closer to 60% air. Those promising moments came far between extended bouts with ailments, deprived mental fortitude and little playoff success. His name will draw, “Remember that guy?” revelations plus his stat line, despite time missed to injuries, looks favorable. However it is evident his standing will always hold him as a good, but not great, player.