Thirty-three years ago today, a man-child was born in Shanghai, China. Yao Ming, arguably one of the most dominant centers (during his relatively short career), celebrates his birthday today. Though his career ended rather quickly (the stress of being a 7-6 big man took its toll on his feet in particular), he helped change the NBA landscape and opened the NBA to a brand new fanbase in China.
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.
8. 2002 HOUSTON VS. DALLAS
In only his 10th career game, Yao went up against another international superstar (Dirk Nowitzki) and showcased his ability to take over a game for the first time. Yao, whose rookie year started a little rough (Yao started his rookie year with some serious duds before this game. He only got into double-figures twice and featured games with such statistical duds of: zero, two, zero and three points.), shushed the critics with a 30-point, 16-rebound and 2-block performance. Yao had officially arrived.
7. 2002 NBA DRAFT
In what would be the Year of the International Player (a record 19 international players were drafted), Yao became the first international-born player to be drafted No. 1 without first an American university (Olajuwon and Ewing both went to college). Not only was this a remarkable moment for the NBA and China, in particular, but it provided fans with this awkward/hilarious satellite feed that should live on forever!