Yes, China loved Jordan and Kobe, but Yao was the first Chinese player to be relevant in the NBA. His career averages may not scream “wow!” (19.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg), but during his 8-year career, Yao Ming was the first (and probably last) of his kind. Will we ever see another 7-6, 310-pounder with a soft shooting touch and above average passing ability in our lifetime?
Jeff Van Gundy, Yao’s former coach, once told Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams the following about Yao: “People are saying he was pretty good. No, he was dominant. He could play. You could make the case he didn’t do it for long enough to be considered an all-time great. But this guy was dominant when he played. In his age group, he was the best center — when healthy.”
With all that considered, it felt necessary to take a look back at some of the best moments of his career in honor of the big man’s birthday.
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10. 2005 NBA ALL-STAR GAME
This has to be one of the top moments of his career not because of his in-game statistics (11 points and eight rebounds), but because in his third year in the NBA, Yao, with the help of his significant Chinese fanbase, broke the All-Star votes record previously held by someone by the name of Michael Jordan. He would be voted into the game every year after.
9. 2009 NBA PLAYOFFS VS. PORTLAND – GAME 1
In what would be the beginning of his last playoff run, Yao started the series off with this dominating Game 1 performance. Yao was simply unstoppable; no really, he didn’t miss from the field (or the free throw line), finishing with 24 points and nine rebounds.