I’ll be honest with you: I was never the biggest Yao Ming fan when he first entered the league. However, as I watched him develop over the years, one thing was undeniable: the league has never seen a player with a combination of his physical size, athleticism and shooting ability. Even more impressive, he literally put a whole country on his back. 1.3 billion Chinese citizens watched his every move, seemingly living vicariously through him. Certainly, Yao did not disappoint.
While sports commentators will most likely remember Yao for his ability to advance the NBA in Asia and truly transform the game into a global sport are what sports commentators, this is not what I see as Yao’s true lasting legacy.
Yao’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to defy notions that Asian players were not athletic enough or “too soft” to play in the league. Before Yao arrived in America for his first game, a number of analysts and commentators weren’t buying into the hype, claiming that he not athletic enough to play basketball at the highest level or that they too passive and “soft” to bang with the bigs that played in the league. Definitely, stereotypes played some soft of role in shaping these opinions…
For example, Dick Vitale wrote:
“My gut feeling watching Ming is not positive. Maybe I’m not being fair, but I see a player who won’t have the body strength to endure the kind of physical contact that takes place on the interior. He will face superb athleticism day in and day out in the NBA, especially if he’s in the Western Conference. I feel he will be abused inside. Some say Ming can handle the basketball well and shoot 15-foot jumpers. But is that what you really want from a player his size?”
Bill Simmons shared similar sentiments:
“Think about it. At best, Ming develops into a bigger, more athletic Rik Smits. Fine. But then you throw in Yao’s adjustment problems (going from China to the United States — yikes), his laid-back demeanor (what happens when NBA players start pushing him around, elbowing him and intimidating him?), his inability to play in the low post, and the way he’ll struggle fitting in with his teammates, as well as lofty expectations, inevitable problems adjusting to a higher level of competition, the fact that NBA players will go out of their way to dunk on him (just like they did with Shawn Bradley — and they ruined his confidence, too), the isolation of playing here, the meddling Chinese government … I mean, did Smits have to deal with any of those things?”
With five appearances on All-NBA teams (twice on the 2nd team and three times the 3rd) and career stats of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, Yao definitely proved his doubters wrong. Despite the Rockets never even making past the Conference Finals during his time (though, he did get injured in 08-09 during the second round), Yao’s personal contributions were impressive: on the court, was a top tier NBA center. Off the court, his love able personality was infectious. Unfortunately, we probably will never know just how good he could have been due to injuries. Nevertheless, Yao leaves us with stats likely just shy of Hall of Fame standards.
Despite an excellent career, Yao is a physical anomaly that is not a true representation of the larger Chinese of Asian basketball playing community. I mean, he was about two feet taller than his average countrymen. Furthermore, some critics even suggest he was manufactured by the government in hopes of creating a basketball machine (just like China has done in other sports). Yao’s parents were both former basketball players. In addition, he was shipped off to a sports academy at a young age, like most other “promising” athletes in China.
You gotta give Yao props for everything he did on the court, but let’s be honest…until an Asian player under 6’5 can make it in the league, there is much to be proved by Asians and Asian-Americans on the basketball court.
“We [Asians] were proud to finally have a Chinese star in the NBA,” Garron Chiu writes.” But didn’t really believe that a regular Chinese person ever could unless we were 7’6″.
The NBA doesn’t believe that either …for now.
About this Blog
Shaquie Chan was a nickname for Yao (albeit a less popular one). This blog is both a tribute to Yao’s accomplishments and also a journal following current and future Asian players who follow in Yao’s footsteps, but also seek to blaze their own trail in the NBA.