Yao Ming, a towering figure in the world of basketball, left an indelible mark on the sport during his career. Standing at an astounding 7 feet 6 inches tall, the Chinese center was a dominant force on the court. We previously covered Yao in our article about the Tallest Players to Ever Play in the NBA.
In this article, we delve into Yao's remarkable career, assessing his skills, impact, and contributions to the game. Join us on this journey to explore just how good Yao Ming was and why he continues to be revered as one of the all-time greats.
Early Career and Rise to Prominence
Yao Ming's journey to basketball stardom began in China, where he was born to two former professional basketball players. At the age of 10, he was already 5'5" tall, and doctors told his parents that he would most likely be 7 feet or taller.
He first showcased his talents in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Yao's professional career started at the age of 13, when he joined the junior team of the Shanghai Sharks, where it's said that he practiced ten hours a day! Four years later, he would join the senior team and play for 5 seasons. In Yao's last year for the Sharks, the squad won their first CBA title, led by Yao's 38.9 ppg and 20.2 rpg averages in the playoffs.
During Yao's time with the Sharks, he broke his foot during his second season. The injury, which was the second time that he had broken the foot, would prove noteworthy down the road.
Foot aside, his exceptional size, athleticism, and skills quickly caught the attention of scouts and fans around the world. Yao's dominance in the CBA earned him international recognition, and he soon became a household name beyond Chinese borders.
Arrival in the NBA
In 2002, Yao Ming made the leap to the NBA when he was selected as the first overall pick by the Houston Rockets. He became the first number one overall pick to not have played college basketball in the United States. Yao's selection was somewhat expected, as the CBA had threatened to not allow Yao to play outside of China unless he was selected first overall.
The expectations were sky-high, and Yao faced immense pressure to live up to the hype. However, he quickly silenced any doubts and established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.
Dominance on the Court
Yao Ming's impact on the game was undeniable. Blessed with extraordinary height, agility, and basketball IQ, he possessed a unique skill set that made him virtually unstoppable. During his rookie season, he played in all 82 games (starting 72) and averaged 13.5 ppg, despite only playing 29 minutes a night. His towering presence in the paint made him a formidable defensive force, blocking shots and altering opponents' scoring attempts with ease. Additionally, his soft touch and shooting ability allowed him to score from mid-range and even stretch out to the three-point line. Despite being 7'6", Yao shot an impressive 81% from the free throw line during his rookie season.
Yao's offensive game was a thing of beauty. Blessed with soft hands and excellent footwork, he could maneuver through defenders, finishing with finesse around the basket. His size and strength made him a dominant rebounder, consistently hauling in double-digit rebounds per game. Yao's scoring ability was not limited to close-range shots; he also possessed a reliable jump shot and showcased impressive shooting accuracy for a player of his stature. He averaged 19 ppg and 9 rpg over the course of his 8-year NBA career and scored a total of 9,802 points.
Yao was selected to 8 NBA All-Star teams, made the All NBA Second Team twice, and the All NBA third team three times. His number 11 jersey has been retired by the Houston Rockets.
Impact Beyond the Game
Yao Ming's impact extended far beyond the basketball court. His charismatic personality and global appeal helped popularize the sport in China and brought the NBA to new heights of international popularity. He's been extremely active with the NBA's Basketball Without Borders, and he donated $2 million to the relief effort in China after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. As one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, Yao served as a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation for the sport.
Injury Challenges and Retirement
Unfortunately, Yao's career was marred by persistent injuries that limited his playing time. At the end of 2009-2010 season, Yao broke his foot for the third time. Despite his resilience and determination to come back, Yao only appeared in 5 games the next season and was forced to retire. However, his impact on the game and his legacy as one of the greatest centers in NBA history remain intact.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
Check out healthy energy drinks from Celsius: