The announcement of Yao Ming’s retirement from the NBA, although expected, was saddening, as one can’t help but feel that Yao, although often excellent, wasn't able to achieve many of the expectations initially placed upon him. Although injuries had everything to do with his abridged career, the truth is that in twenty years Yao will not be remembered in the annals of basketball lore with the same magnitude that many had once imagined. Which is sad really, because Yao couldn’t be a better guy; generous, kind, and with a great appreciation for the game, while always appearing gracious and genuine.
Yao posted very respectable career averages of 19 and 9 throughout his eight seasons in Houston, averaging a career high 25 points per game during the 2006-2007 season, as he showed flashes of the force he could become. Injuries reduced his career to only flashes unfortunately, as he was never able to fully blossom into the League’s next big (literally) superstar. Looking at it from that perspective, the numbers 19 and 9 seem pretty pedestrian for someone many felt could replace Shaq as the game’s next great giant.
Numbers will never tell the full story of Yao however, as there is no stat to measure the impact he’s had on the game globally; doors and opportunities he has opened up for others that were not available prior to his unique ascent up the basketball ranks, along with the millions of kids whom he has become an idol to. No, he was not able to put up the numbers of an all-time great, but it can be argued that his overall impact on the game was much greater than that of many with superior statistics. While many looked at Yao’s annual landslide All-Star selections as little more than a skewed selection process based on his home country’s relative size, I looked at it as an implication of the impact he was having on the game globally; the legions of fans he introduced to the League, and the young individuals he inspired along his ride to the Rockets.
So no, Yao probably won’t get selected for the Hall of Fame, or even be remembered as an all-time great force in the future. But sometimes, a career cannot be completely measured by statistics, and this is certainly one of those cases. Yao’s on-court numbers don’t accurately measure his impact, as he has done much more for the game than can be quickly calculated by a statistician. None the less, it is always disappointing when a promising career is cut short by injury before it gets to peak, especially for someone with as much potential as Yao. Sometimes however, that is just how the game goes, regardless of how good of a guy you may be. Yao’s NBA chapter is complete, albeit a lot earlier and less decorated than many expected. At this point, one can only hope that basketball history looks at Yao with a broader scope than simply studying statistics, because to the game and to the League, Yao meant so much more.