In honor of Yao Ming, it’s only right to have this week’s episode of “Great Sports Writing” feature one of the most impactful and beloved basketball players of all time. Equipped with an enduring smile and an admirable sense of humor, Yao will forever be remembered for the lasting impression he left with everyone he encountered. Forget the fact that Yao was a skilfully gifted 7-foot-5 basketball star that resurrected basketball back in the city of Houston, Yao embraced hundreds of millions of new fans into following the NBA. On the court (and when healthy), Yao was undoubtedly a dominant force, a spectacle to watch. The combination of his sweet shooting touch as well as his polished post game presented all sorts of problems for opponents, especially his deep baseline fade-away which evoked memories of The Dream back in the mid-90s. (His free-throw shooting wasn’t too shabby either — a consistent 80% shooter for his career. Imagine if Shaq was blessed with that shooting touch from the charity stripe?) Off the court, Yao was a friend to all, a family man, a spokesman, a global icon, a true hero, and a role model for the younger generations. Yao truly was larger than life.
Here, Peter Hessler wonderfully profiles (much better than I ever could) Yao’s journey from China to the NBA, and back to China. After finishing reading the piece, you will get a sense of the unbelievable (and unrealistic) expectations placed on him as a young child. It’s awe-inspiring how Yao was able to handle everything. I never need to hear a complaint from “The Chosen One” (LeBron) ever again about the burdensome expectations placed on him. Check out this must-read piece below to get a better understanding of just how hard it is to be Yao Ming.
From The New Yorker:
After a sensational rookie season in the National Basketball Association, Yao, who is twenty-three, had returned to China in early May with one clear objective: to lead the national team to the title in the Asian Basketball Championship, which serves as the regional qualifier for the 2004 Olympics. Usually, China dominates Asian basketball, but this year, because of political problems, Wang Zhizhi, the country’s second-best player, had not come back from America. Yao Ming had become involved in a high-profile lawsuit, which was interpreted by the Chinese press as a clash between the rights of the individual and the authority of the state. Increasingly, Yao’s world was divided: there was the sanctity of the sport and, off court, a whirlwind of distractions, ranging from the burdensome to the bizarre. When I had last visited him, in July, he was staying with the Chinese team in Qinhuangdao, a seaside town that was hosting an exhibition game against a squad from the United States Basketball Academy. Yao didn’t play—he had just received eight stitches in the eyebrow after a teammate elbowed him in practice. Before the game, a China Unicom representative with a digital recorder coached Yao through a series of phrases that would be sold as alarm messages to mobile-phone subscribers. “Wake up, lazy insect!” Yao said obediently, and then his bandaged brow dipped when the woman asked him to repeat it (“More emphasis!”).
That evening, the Chinese nearly threw the game away—in the final quarter, they couldn’t handle a full-court press from the ragtag American team. “I think the center needs to come to half-court against the press,” Yao told me afterward, in his hotel room. Liu Wei, the Chinese point guard and Yao’s best friend, was sprawled on one bed. Yao sat on the other bed, which had been crudely extended: the head consisted of a wooden cabinet covered with blankets. We spoke in English; he talked about the N.B.A. off-season news that he had culled from the Internet. He had not spoken to any of his Houston teammates since returning to China. “Did you hear about Rodman?” Yao said. “He might come back. I can’t believe the Lakers got Payton and Malone. I can’t believe they only spent six million. If Kobe is O.K., it’s like a Dream Team.” The names sounded foreign and far away—Mark Cuban, Shaq, Kirilenko. “AK-47,” Yao said, using the sports-talk nickname for Andrei Kirilenko, a Russian forward on the Utah Jazz. Yao smiled like a kid at the sound of the phrase. “AK-47,” he said again.
We will miss you, Yao.
[The New Yorker]
Video of his greatest moment in the NBA. Brings a little tear to this NBA fan’s eye.
Horrible news Rockets fans. From the Houston Chronicle:
Rockets center Yao Ming’s comeback suffered another devastating setback with a stress fracture found Thursday morning in his left ankle.
The injury is not in the same area as the previous stress fracture, but it is a major setback.
Tests taken after his Nov. 10 sprained ankle and subsequently did not show the injury.
Yao had said in the offseason that he would consider retirement if he had been unable to stay healthy.
This has serious implications for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that Yao’scareer in the NBA is likely over. He now needs to be considered in the company of Bill Walton in the list of greatest players never allowed to showcase their talent, due to size-related injuries. It’s so unfortunate to think what could have been for the Rockets, given that our last fond memory of Yao was him trudging out of the tunnel Willis Reed-style to beat the Lakers with free throws. It had looked like the moment where he finally was going to assert himself Hakeem-style on the rest of the league and just will his team to victories.
The second implication is that the Rockets might make a gigantic push to land Carmelo Anthony in the coming days to lock up a franchise player to replace Yao. Rockets GM Daryl Morey is widely regarded as the smartest/best GM in the NBA and he’s not likely to let the season go down in flames already. Look for him to use any means possible to make a push for the Nuggets all-star forward.
By Nick Childs
This is a list of my favorite dunks. This list is very fluid, but these dunks are always worth revisiting for me. It is nearly impossible to make a true list of things like this, so it is almost certain that I will miss some great dunks. Feel free to leave a link as a comment. This list includes dunks from every level of basketball competition including the NBA, Olympic competition, And-1 and others. Other than that, enjoy these incredible acts of athleticism!
10. This video goes at No. 10 because it didn’t really happen in competition. How much defense is really played when you are trying to make a mix-tape? Nonetheless, a 720 dunk is ridiculous.
9. Kobe Bryant has a long, storied career, so it is tough to pick one dunk. My favorite is the one on Yao. Here is mix of his top 5 dunks.
8. Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever live, and he had many famous dunks. Here is his infamous cradle dunk that helped him revolutionize the game in many ways.
7. Dominique Wilkins is regarded as one of the greatest dunkers of all time. He was known as “the human highlight real” and for good reason. He made the windmill famous. For anyone that can dunk, you know how hard it is to move the ball that far while in the air and trying to slam it in the basket.
6. Rajon Rondo showed me something this year that I had no idea he had. Watch him get off the ground and put it down with authority! P.S., way to contest the bucket, Chris Bosh.
5. Carmelo Anthony takes my fifth spot. This dunk is particularly important to me because, 1. It’s ‘Melo and 2. It came against the Jazz. Watching this live, I jumped out of my chair screaming, just as ‘Melo did. Read his lips: “I’m back!”
4. Lebron James- The best dunker in the game today. Here he embarrasses Damon Jones. Watch Jones in the air. He jumps and then realizes that was a terrible idea so he tries to shield his body while Lebron posterizes him.
3. I will never forget watching this dunk because it happened right after a confrontation between D-Wade and Anderson Varejao. It is safe to say, Wade won the battle.
2. This is another one I will never forget. I watched this dunk live and couldn’t believe what I saw. To cap off a huge run for the Warriors, Baron Davis punches Andre Kirilenko in the mouth, literally and figuratively. Watch the whole video and check out everyone’s reactions. They are priceless.
1. Vince Carter, another one of the greatest dunkers of all time. This dunk is over a 7 footer trying to take a charge, proves the big man right for trying to take a flop. Unfotunately, he never got that chance because Carter jumped clear over him. This is super-human.
So in making this list, I tried to give tribute to those who paved the way for dunks like these and give the people what they came for. Who doesn’t like watching people get punched on. These dunks never get old. Remember, this is my list of favorites. Any suggestions for others to see, leave a link in the comment box!
A column ran in the Houston Chronicle yesterday trying to tackle that exact question and it made some fair, although harsh, critiques of the current system which requires Yao to play no more than 24 minutes a game. From the Houston Chronicle:
“Can we all agree the Yao Ming experiment hasn’t worked? Let us count the ways.
First, limiting him to six- and seven-minute increments is silly. To have Rick Adelman’s decisions dictated by the clock instead of the game won’t work.
‘You try to get him the minutes, and sometimes it’s not a good situation,’ Adelman said. ‘Maybe he’s got it going a little bit, and all of a sudden, you’ve got to take him out.’
The Rockets have plenty of other things to fix during this 0-4 start, but Yao is a good place to start. If he’s playing well, if he’s productive and blending with his teammates, Adelman must have the freedom to extend his minutes.
Indications are the Rockets will ask their medical staff to allow Adelman to do just that in the days ahead. Yao may never again be the 37-minute workhorse he was two years ago, and the Rockets are prepared to live with this new reality.
But while they’d like to have him on the floor for additional minutes, an even higher priority is gaining permission to extend his minutes at certain times of the game. Let’s face it, if he continues to be sloppy with his fouls and slow with his defensive footwork, he won’t be out there 24 minutes very often anyway.
No coach should be asked to make decisions on anything other than winning, and Adelman hasn’t been able to do that in the three games Yao has been available.
Besides, what makes anyone think limiting Yao to 24 minutes a game will extend his career? There apparently was no science to that number. It simply was an attempt to decrease the pounding on Yao’s surgically repaired left foot.”
Although our tone isn’t quite as desperate when it comes to the Rockets’ chances this year, the writer does make a fair point. The Rockets probably are doing Yao’s career a great favor by limiting his minutes, but at what cost to the team? There is no way for the players on the court and/or Yao to find a rhythm together when their star player has to be yanked from games unexpectedly because of the stupid minutes total. Yao is the guy these players are looking towards to take them to the next level. Are they really going to pull him from a tight game because he surpasses the imaginary threshold that the team’s doctors came up with? The Rockets need to decide what’s more important for this season: winning or keeping up this charade which they hope will keep Yao healthy.
by Eddie Moore
The Houston Chronicle reported this morning more about how Yao will be used this upcoming season:
“Yao will play no more than 24 minutes per game, Rockets vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones said. There will be no exceptions. If Yao has played his 24 minutes and the Rockets have the ball and eight seconds on the clock to make up a one-point deficit, Yao will not play those eight seconds.
Yao’s playing time will not average 24 minutes; it will end there. If he plays 22 minutes in one game, he will not play 26 the next. For that matter, if he plays two minutes one game, he will not play 26 the next. When Yao reaches his 24 minutes, he will be through for that game.
Yao also is likely to be held out of the second half of back-to-backs, though that might not be the policy for the entire season. The team is also uncertain if Yao can play extra in the second half of a game if he was limited to only a few minutes in the first half.”
When asked about the potential of Yao playing more in the playoffs, the athletic trainer responded, “Twenty-four is his number all year…Playoffs come, things could change. We’re trying to get him through April.”
I’m happy the Rockets are taking a proactive approach to this. Clearly the Rockets haven’t experienced much luck with Yao’s health in the past, so I’m all in favor of this new plan. The Rockets have a deep enough squad to make the playoffs without Yao (although they didn’t last year), so I see no incentive of playing Yao much at all in the regular season. Let him get some in-game reps in and take him out. If Yao can survive this regular season and make it out relatively unscathed, then watch out for the Rockets in the post-season. If Yao suffers another major injury this regular season, then, well, the Rockets will need to formulate another plan for the team that doesn’t include Yao. We can only hope for the best with the big fella. Come on, Yao, we will all be rooting for ya.
By Eddie Moore
Yao Ming appears to be healthy, but it’s far from a guarantee that he will stay that way. Rocket fans have been teased far too many times. If the Rockets don’t make any more notable changes prior to the season, it’s obvious that they will need Yao often if they intend on contending in the Southwest division and in the rest of the Western conference. Last week the Rockets decided to release some short footage of Yao. He looked solid; his post-up game looked crisp, and although it’s just a brief practice, this footage was encouraging. Yao even entertained us with a little trash talkin’ aimed at Chucky Hayes…Come on, who doesn’t love Yao?!
According to SportingNews, Morey described how Yao’s playing time will be sporadic this season. Until the big fella actually demonstrates some endurance and consistency, there’s no need to rush him back to his old minutes. “He is going to be more limited, it is just a matter of how you get to that point, how you limit him..Obviously, you start with less minutes per game. He won’t be out there for 35, 40 minutes per game, we know that. But then, things like back-to-backs, you might see him not play in the second part of those or something. Practice time, he might be limited. There are different ways to keep his minutes down. No one knows exactly right now.”
Yao’s a free agent next year and if he suffers another grueling injury this season Rocket fans will have to endure another year of “what-ifs”; more importantly though, the career of Yao Ming will probably come to a sad and unfortunate end.
by Matt Corder
Houston Rockets officials were quoted as saying the report that center Yao Ming delaying his comeback as much as two months is not true. Like I said yesterday, I wasn’t sure how credible the source was, given that Wisconsin isn’t that strong of a basketball market. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Everyone knows that Yao is injury-prone and that an anonymous report emerged in Wisconsin has to at least have Rockets fans feeling a little nervous. Time will tell if we owe this reporter in Wisconsin a Stephen A. Smith-like apology or if he proves to be an idiot. Here’s the actual quote from the Houston Chronicle, “Rockets officials report that Yao — who is back in China for his annual charity game — is entirely on track to start training camp and the season on time. More specifically, Daryl Morey said the suggestion that caution could lead the Rockets to hold Yao out of as much as the first two months of the season or that the Rockets have considered it is ‘totally false.’” Many thanks to Gen Y reader Kevin for making us aware of this. [Jonathan Feigen for the Houston Chronicle]
by Matt Corder
I’m not sure how credible this guy is so make your own interpretation. Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times is reporting that, “Houston officials are hopeful All-Star center Yao Ming will be physically sound for the regular-season opener. But I’m hearing the Rockets aren’t about to rush their star back too soon and he could miss up to the first two months of the season.” It would make sense, given the Rockets addition of Brad Miller and the extension that Scola just signed, but this has to come as devastating news to Rockets fans, if true. Another interesting note that he is reporting on is that he’s heard Detroit might make the move to Las Vegas? This is the first time I’ve ever heard this guy’s name so again, don’t take it at face value until more reports are confirmed. [The Journal Times]