While we might’ve seen this coming – the end of the road for Yao Ming – we weren’t ready for it just yet. Now the next phase in Yao’s life has all but begun. Gone will be the 20/10 nights. Gone will be the All-Star games. And gone will be any chance at a championship.
The focus has shifted to his place in history. Is he a Hall of Fame player? Some say he didn’t do enough on the court, and that should be the only thing that matters. Others say his overall impact was greater than probably half of the players already elected into the Hall of Fame.
Now that Jeff Van Gundy checked in with his opinion, we figured we would go at the debate ourselves. So is Yao Ming deserving of the Hall of Fame? We argue. You decide.
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HE ISN’T WORTHY
You could call Yao Ming an architect.
A transcendent physical specimen who bridged the basketball gap between China and the United States, he globalized the game – constructing a virtual runway for millions of fans, thousands of miles apart. For that, we are ever thankful.
Having said that, we’re arguing his influence on the game as a player, not as a “contributor” (a separate Hall of Fame category in which you can be inducted).
Individual statistics are an NBA player’s resume, a way to look back on a player’s career, appraising his worth, calibrating his influence and equating his legacy.
Let’s say you run the NBA Hall of Fame. You have dictatorship-like power and every induction is made by you and only you. The resume of Player X has just been placed on your desk.
Player X played eight seasons in the NBA. Of those eight seasons, only two were full seasons. Of the 486 total games, 170 were missed. Player X reached the playoffs four times – only once making it out of the first round. Player X never won a championship, never played in the NBA Finals, and never played in the conference finals. Player X was an eight-time All-Star during a historically weak center class, and averaged a career 19-9. He was undoubtedly the best player on his team for three of his eight seasons and was named to five All-NBA teams (two seconds and a three thirds).
Obviously Player X is Yao Ming. His name – for his influence and globalization of basketball – carries more weight than it should in terms of his actually on-the-court accomplishments. However, reading his resume as Player X allows for a more organic perspective. Disregarding any emotions or bias.
Yao’s most productive seasons took place from 2005-2008. Yao averaged 23.1 points and 10.1 rebounds during that four-year span (three seasons), notching career highs in points (25.0) in 2006-07, rebounds in 2007-08 (10.8) and blocks in 2007-08 (2.0).
His career playoff numbers (19.8 points and 9.3 rebounds) were almost identical to his career regular season numbers, a credit to his consistency and dependability.
However, nothing on Yao’s resume really jumps off the page. In fact, an argument could be made that during his eights seasons with Houston, Yao was only the best player on his team for three of them. From 2004-2008, Tracy McGrady averaged 24-6-6, lead the team in scoring for three seasons and was selected to three All-Star games. In his three playoff appearances with the Rockets, he averaged 28-7-7, most notably in 2005 when he averaged 30.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 6.7 apg.
Yao played only five games in 2010-11, making it impossible to say he was the best player on his team that year. By that math, Yao takes three of his eight years with the Rockets as their without-a-doubt best player.
Just to clear things up:
2002-03: Yao Ming
2003-04: Yao Ming
2004-05: Tracy McGrady
2005-06: Tracy McGrady
2006-07: Tracy McGrady
2007-08: Tracy McGrady
2008-09: Yao Ming
2010-11: Kevin Martin or Luis Scola
So you tell me. A guy who was the best player on his team for three of his eight seasons. A guy who never won a championship let alone reached the Finals. A guy who battled injuries. You tell me if this person is Hall of Fame quality. You tell me if this person belongs with the likes of Jordan, Bird, Magic, Russell, Wilt and Kareem.
I say no.