Houston Rockets

With the first NBA exhibition game only a week away, there are several reasons to be thrilled about the 2013-2014 NBA season. The landscape of the NBA is undergoing major transformations this season, ranging from the retirement of commissioner David Stern to the birth of a dynasty in Miami. This season will play a big role in determining the legacy of LeBron James, the fall of past powerhouses — Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks 

— and the rise of others in the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. With that said, let’s see how the Western Conference will play out this season. 

1. San Antonio Spurs- Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Calling the Spurs too old to compete, saying Tim Duncan is too old to be an elite power forward, and counting the Spurs out season after season is nothing but insanity. The Spurs will once again show why they are the class of the NBA Western Conference.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder- The Oklahoma City Thunder was an outstanding team last year. But they never seemed quite the same after the departure of now-superstar James Harden. Will general manager Sam Presti’s financially conservative decision to let go of Harden backfire on the surefire championship contender? We can only wait and see. 

3. Los Angeles Clippers- There are only four coaches in the NBA today who have won a championship- Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstera, Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers. The Los Angeles Clippers now have one of them. With a championship-worthy coach in Rivers, Chris Paul and the still-improving Blake Griffin, the Clippers are primed to take the next step in the playoffs. 

4. Golden State Warriors- The acquisition of Andre Iguodala was arguably the best steal of the NBA offseason. With the entire free agency revolving around Dwight Howard’s arrival in Houston, a bigger story was missed. The Warriors, NBA Western Conference semi-finalists of last year, have acquired an elite wing stopper and much needed veteran leadership. The maturation of superstar Stephen Curry and the health of Andrew Bogut should determine how far this team can go. 

5. Houston Rockets- Dwight Howard has landed in the perfect spot. He is being coached by arguably the best post player of all time — Kevin McHale. He is mentored by one of the greatest centers of all time — Hakeem Olajuwon. He is alongside the best shooting guard in the NBA — James Harden. If Howard continues to whine or not take the Rockets deep into the playoffs, expect it to be a disappointing season in Houston. 

6. Memphis Grizzlies- This team can play defense. Marc Gasol anchoring the defense and Tony Allen on the wing is certainly a recipe for defensive success. However, the Grizzlies can go for long stretches without an elite scoring punch. 

7. Dallas Mavericks- It’s hard to believe the Mavericks won a championship just two years ago. The Mavericks of last year resemble nothing of the 2011 Mavericks that had mastered the art of flow offense and zone defense. However, with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki ready to prove himself and the additions of Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert, the Mavericks should sneak into the playoffs. 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves- Health is the biggest problem here. If Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are healthy for whole season, there is no doubt the Timberwolves will finally make the playoffs. 

Former Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady signed with the Spurs on Tuesday to play the length of the playoffs. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After agreeing to a deal Tuesday that will last the length of the playoffs, Tracy McGrady is a San Antonio Spur.

Now, the question of the hour: If the Rockets beat the Lakers on Wednesday to claim the West’s No. 7 seed and a first-round match against San Antonio, how many Houston fans will root against their team and instead cheer for the player whose jersey they wore through adolescence?

This is a valid inquiry. It would make sense for NBA teams to come with “subject-to-change” disclaimers. Rosters turn over at impossible-to-track rates, making it difficult for some to stomach a life spent rooting for the same franchise. The Rockets, for instance, have a core trio of players that fans didn’t give a hoot about until they landed with the team in the offseason.

To us, players aren’t just people; they represent memories. The reversible black-and-red jersey I donned for elementary-age basketball — Michael Jordan. The ill-advised fro I combed out before games in middle school — Ben Wallace. The stupid chalk clap we did in high school rec ball — LeBron James. And so now whenever I see the aging Jordan on television, or when I see that Wallace doesn’t even play anymore, or that LeBron is almost 30 (!), I am given a startling reminder of just how far back my memories can now trace. If a player can invoke a twinge of nostalgia, we care about him more than we ever could any team.

Take it in specific cases, imagining a simultaneous Denver Broncos and Texas Longhorns fan. Does the Broncos fan not at least feel good for Justin Tucker as he boots the game-winner in overtime to send the Ravens to the Super Bowl? You remember where you were when Tucker beat Texas A&M with his leg. Does the Dallas Cowboys fan not have an easier time swallowing a loss to the Redskins if it’s at the hands of Texas son Robert Griffin III? If you’re a Baylor fan, you remember how proud you were when he won the Heisman.

Inter-league examples of this dynamic are rare, but in the 2011 and 2012 Western Conference Finals a faction of non-diehard Mavericks and Spurs fans instead rooted for the hoops team of former-Longhorn Kevin Durant. Durant’s team, heaven forbid, calls Oklahoma home. 

Something about McGrady makes him a sympathetic figure. He never won a playoff series (though his team did while he was injured), was beset by injury and later in his career was exposed as a premium scorer with little else to his game. But he was beloved in Houston.

“Tracy was the commercial player Houston was craving for — a branded player with a shoe deal and a scoring ability that embodied the wave of NBA superstar before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade proved that scoring isn’t everything,” said Sameer Bhuchar, former Daily Texan sports editor and lifelong Rockets fan. “Houston hadn’t had that type of player in a while, not in any sport.”

There’s not much of a question that the Houston fan who grew jaded with an unrecognizable team after connecting so well with McGrady will be pulling for the newest Spur if the series is tied 3-3 and T-Mac, hypothetically, has the ball in his hands with seconds remaining. 

More compelling: the Houston fan who has stuck with the Rockets through all these years, but still remembers the very place he was when McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds (against the Spurs), slept with a T-Mac poster above his pillow, shouted “T-Mac!” instead of “Kobe!” on fallaway shots at the wastebasket, stayed up late staring at said poster above his pillow, wondering if McGrady would ever stay healthy, wondering why McGrady never became as good as they thought he would. Dammit, at one point this guy wanted to be Tracy McGrady.

And now the ball’s in T-Mac’s hands, with seconds left on the clock, and he’s staring James Harden down. My guess? This guy’s going to be cheering like it’s 2005. 

A mid-season report on the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks

At the mid-point of an NBA season, uncertainties tend to become certainties, questions tend to get answers, and teams tend to settle into a relative standard of playing level. In general, the identities of teams begin to coalesce. This traditional expectation applies fruitfully to the San Antonio Spurs. However, the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are still in a nebulous zone, far from forming their identity, realizing their potential, and meeting that baseline expectation for mid-season.

At this point, the San Antonio Spurs embody the persona of a championship contender. Anything less than that would be to underestimate the potent Spurs offense and Popovich’s genius. The Spurs (36-11) currently stand at the apex of the Western Conference standings and scream contender status on a daily basis. The elite point guard play of Tony Parker, the resurgence of the greatest power forward Tim Duncan ever, and a top 5 supporting cast makes the Spurs seem invincible year in and year out. Currently boasting seven players averaging nine points or more ( Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard), the Spurs rarely depend on the same players to step up on a nightly basis. The sharing of responsibility, the culture instilled by the Spurs system, and the wealth of supporting talent explicates how the Spurs put up consistent wins despite the occasional absence of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. At this point during the season, the Spurs know who they are and what they want. They are a clear-cut contender.

The Houston Rockets (24-22) currently stand at the eighth position in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets show flashes of brilliance and the potential their team holds. However, their playing style is often plagued by their inexperience and inconsistency. One thing is for sure though; the Rockets have their franchise foundation piece in James Harden. Harden is on his way to becoming the NBA’s best shooting guard, fortifying his relentless athleticism with his experiences as the number one option. The Rockets know they go as Harden goes. However, with the average age of the Houston Rockets roster around 24, they still have a long maturation process to undergo before realizing their true potential and identity.

Although they have recently won six of last eight, the Dallas Mavericks (19-25) lack any sort of identity of consistency. With 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki still trying to find his Hall of Fame form and missing the All Star Game for the first time in over a decade, the Mavericks have been in a state of fluctuation and confusion. They lead the league with 17 different starting lineups. Over the past three games, they have had three different starting centers. Nevertheless, Rick Carlisle has mentioned that he is attempting to establish a more consistent lineup and rotation. Once Dirk Nowitzki encapsulates the superstar style of play he is capable of, Darren Collison and OJ Mayo begin to produce on a more consistent basis, and the team commits to defense, the Mavericks have a chance to make a late-season surge for the playoffs.

When the Spurs step on to the court at this point of the season, you know what you’re going to get. However, the same cannot be stated for the Rockets and the Mavericks. As Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” With the Mavericks and Rockets, you just never know. 

An early season analysis of the Houston Rockets

James Harden is on the verge of becoming a superstar, if he is not already. With a 35 point and a 45 point performance in his first two games as the starting shooting guard and the focal point for the Houston Rocket’s offense, Harden proved he has what it takes to be a franchise player in the league. It has become unbelievably obvious that Harden’s potential was limited in Oklahoma City, having to play third fiddle to superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden. Harden now lifts the lottery bound Rockets team to a completely different stratosphere- a playoff team.

Nevertheless, there are some serious obstacles the Rockets must overcome to really grow this season. Their first two wins of the season have masked the turnovers that could plague their offensive productivity this season. Although Jeremy Lin might seem to have turned out to be a solid point guard in the league, he is extremely turnover-prone. Add to that issue that Harden has to learn to play as the franchise player without turning over the ball too much.

Another impending issue is the veteran presence. For a talented roster like the Houston Rockets to flourish during the late season and into the playoffs, veteran leadership and poise is a must. However, the only starter over 25 years of age is dominant rebounding center Omer Asik. That will not suffice as the season moves on.

Eventually though, these problems will dissipate and the Rockets franchise will once again shine in the Western Conference. Don’t be surprised to see the Rockets contending for a championship within the next few seasons now that they have superstar James Harden to build around.

MILWAUKEE— The Milwaukee Bucks are getting a much-needed big man and the Houston Rockets are positioning themselves to make a big move.

A person with direct knowledge of the deal said Wednesday that the Bucks and Rockets had agreed to a trade a day before the NBA draft, with the Bucks sending the No. 12 overall pick and three players to the Rockets for the No. 14 pick and center Samuel Dalembert. The Rockets get guard Shaun Livingston and forwards Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman in the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet official. Several media organizations reported the deal earlier Wednesday.

Dalembert has career averages of 8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots per game. Center is a major need for the Bucks, who traded away Andrew Bogut last season and never really found a way to replace him.

Houston, meanwhile, is apparently positioning itself for a blockbuster move after dealing Chase Budinger to Minnesota for the 18th pick on Tuesday. The Rockets now have the No. 12, 16 and 18 picks in Thursday’s draft, but the team may make more moves as they put together a package to land a superstar big man — possibly Orlando’s Dwight Howard or Atlanta’s Josh Smith.

Howard, a five-time All-Star center, asked to be traded by the Magic during the season.

The Rockets went 34-32 last year, missing the playoffs for the third straight season. They’ve lacked a strong inside presence since former top overall pick Yao Ming started running into foot and injury issues and finally retired last summer.

Before last season, the Rockets were ready to trade forward Luis Scola, shooting guard Kevin Martin and point guard Goran Dragic for Pau Gasol, but NBA commissioner David Stern nixed the trade for “basketball reasons” on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets.

Houston picked up Dalembert in December. He started 45 games and averaged 7.5 points and seven rebounds per game in 2011-12.

First-year coach Kevin McHale said at a charity event on Monday that finding a dominant big man remains a high priority.

“From my standpoint,” he said, “getting bigger, protecting the rim, playing above the rim, rebounding and blocking shots is always a good thing.”

Howard was been named the league’s top defensive player three times and averaged a career-high 14.5 rebounds per game last season. He also publicly expressed frustration with coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith during the season. Van Gundy was fired and Smith parted ways with the team in May.

Speculation swirled this week that the Rockets were shopping point guard Kyle Lowry, who missed 19 games last season, mostly due to a bacterial infection that required hospitalization. Lowry and McHale developed a rift, arguing during a timeout in a game against Denver in April. Lowry told the Houston Chronicle in May that he would have “issues” playing for McHale.

With Lowry sidelined, Dragic emerged as a capable replacement, averaging 18 points and 8.4 assists in 28 starts. Dragic is an unrestricted free agent, but said after the season that he’d like to remain in Houston. He also said he wants a starting role in the NBA.

Bucks general manager John Hammond emphasized this week that he and his staff would take the best player available in the draft, conceding that the Bucks absolutely needed to find a center.

“I think right now there’s the assumption that we’re kind of looking into basically a narrow-minded set of, ‘We have to go big,’” Hammond said. “You know, there’s a need there, so obviously that is going to be a discussion and it’s going to somewhat of a priority for us.”

Before moving to get Dalembert, players projected to be of interest to the Bucks were North Carolina center Tyler Zeller and Illinois’ Meyers Leonard. Both run well for 7-footers, a must on a team that wants to play with an up-tempo style powered by guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

Milwaukee also could go with a shooting guard such as Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb or Washington’s Terrence Ross.

Hammond and coach Scott Skiles both are going into the final year of their contracts and aren’t considered likely to receive extensions before the season starts. Given the uncertainty, Hammond might be expected to favor drafting a player who can help the team right away over a project with a higher upside.

But Hammond said his contract situation won’t change the way he approaches the draft, even if fans and the media are discussing it.

“The issue at hand is how can we improve the Milwaukee Bucks,” Hammond said. “So for us, that may be discussed at the draft, it may be discussed during free agency, discussed even during the season when we talk about trades or other things that could come our way to change our roster. But at the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing. And the right thing is what’s best for this team, this organization, this city and our fans. And I would never vary from that.”

The New Orleans Hornets are taking Kentucky forward. Anthony Davis, with the top overall pick, seems to be one of the few certainties heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Another thing you can almost count on is that there will be a fair number of draft night moves that will reshape many rosters around the league.

Coming off their Western Conference Finals loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs don’t have many holes to fill. They will eventually need to find a forward for the post-Tim Duncan era, but that will be tough to do in this draft unless they trade into the first round. The Spurs only have the 59th pick to work with, while the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets may both be looking to move up in the draft order.

The Rockets dealt Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire their third first round pick of the 2012 draft. Houston also sent the 14th overall pick and Samuel Dalembert to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the 12th pick and three players. Now holding the 12th, 16th and 18th picks, the Rockets seem to be setting themselves up to make a legitimate run at Orlando Magic’s all-star center, Dwight Howard.

If their run at Howard falls short, the Rockets could snag Connecticut center Andre Drummond as a consolation prize. They are reportedly in talks with the Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors in an effort to move into the top-ten of the draft in order to make the Drummond selection.

The Mavericks hold the 17th pick and are also open to possibly trading up in the draft order. Given the depth of forwards in this year’s draft, they may not have to move up to fill their dire needs at the position.

The Mavericks are likely to nab whichever quality power forward slips out of the lottery and becomes available at the 17th pick. Many mock drafts have the Mavericks selecting Kentucky’s Terrence Jones. The 6-foot-9 forward could provide power off the bench and help fill the defensive and rebounding voids left after Tyson Chandler’s departure.

Like the Rockets, the Mavericks are also making a move at a perennial all-star. They are hoping that Dallas-native Deron Williams chooses to play for his hometown over resigning with the Brooklyn Nets. The Mavericks have been linked to taking North Carolina combo guard Kendall Marshall with their first round pick to give them ensure they have a point guard in case Williams stays with the Nets.

NBA Notebook

Gregg Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs continue to defy the “old” label they are often shouldered with. The Spurs are in second place in the Western Conference and are third in the league in scoring.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

If the NBA season were to end today, every Texas team would have a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The tried-and-true San Antonio Spurs, young Houston Rockets and reigning champion Dallas Mavericks are all among the top-eight teams in the West, but each is dealing with its own set of issues as the playoffs draw nearer.

Popovich managing Spurs carefully in crunch time

Don’t call them old. Only Gregg Popovich can do that.

Despite officially listing the reason aging star, Tim Duncan, didn’t play against Philadelphia last week is because he’s “old,” Popovich’s squad is doing what it does best — winning. The Spurs were one of the teams that were predicted to falter this season because of the compressed 66-game schedule. However, the Spurs are the West’s second-best team that no one is talking about.

“It’s a little bit more difficult than the normal season,” Popovich said before the game of managing minutes. “We’ve always played our guys less than most teams, so it’s a little bit more emphasis than usual.”

San Antonio is the third best scoring team in the league and it is currently enjoying an eight-game win streak after routing Cleveland 125-90 last night. Popovich has had to strategically divvy minutes among his players to keep veterans like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan off the floor when they don’t need to be there. And the strategy is working. The old-reliable crew has kept its numbers on par with their career statistics and the Spurs continue to cash in wins like they have for the last decade.

Tuesday night kicked off a 16-game-in-23-days stretch to finish the shortened season. As the playoffs draw closer, the second-place Spurs will likely rest their starters more often to keep them fresh for a deep playoff run. Parker, Ginobili and Duncan each played less than 23 minutes Tuesday against the Caveliers, but they still all had +/- ratings above 16.

Rockets trying to stay in rarefied air

As has been the case for the last two seasons, the Houston Rockets are in contention for a low-seed in the playoffs. Currently gasping for air with a one-game lead over the ninth place Utah Jazz, the Rockets are a league anomaly.

The third-best team in the state beat some of the best teams in the league as well as lost to some of the worst. In March, the Rockets beat the Thunder in an improbable come-from-behind victory over the West’s best Oklahoma City Thunder. On Monday, the Rockets beat the East’s best team, the Chicago Bulls. However, they’ve been prone to losing to teams such as Phoenix, Toronto and Minnesota.

Lately, the Rockets have gotten the job done without their best players Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin. Lowry should return soon, but he is still dealing with a bacterial infection, while Martin is nursing a right shoulder injury that will see him miss more time.

For Houston to ensure at least the eight seed, it will need to play mentally tough on the road, something it hasn’t done particularly well this season. The Rockets are a 9-17 on the road with seven of their next 12 games being played away from home.

“I never understood that,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said as he tried to explain his team’s road woes. “Baskets are 10 feet high and the court’s 94 feet. I’ve never seen a fan score a point yet.”

Mavericks still searching for that championship swagger

Whatever magic Dallas conjured up last year, it’ll need to do it again. The Mavericks may be playing better ball and hold the third seed in the West, but they look nothing like the inspired championship team from 2011.

Dallas has been inconsistent this season, winning games it has the sheer talent to beat, but faltering against younger, quicker squads. The Mavs dropped their latest contest against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday. They only scored 75 points to the Clippers’ 94, and head coach Rick Carlisle thought his team looked lethargic.

“No, it wasn’t very good,” Carlisle said after watching Monday’s game film. “We’re going to have to do a lot better [today against Memphis]. Breakdowns, and it really began with turnovers and transition defense. We’ve got to pick it up.”

The Mavericks have the old-school pieces in place to surprise everybody in the playoffs though, and if Carlisle can get them focused and running the floor, he thinks the team can get back to that elite level.

“Our awareness has got to be better,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to do to things hard, we’ve got to do things efficiently, we’ve got to do things well and we have a higher level and we’re going to get to it.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Texas' NBA teams all occupy playoff spots

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Houston will play host to basketball’s biggest stars for the second time in seven years, having been selected to host the 2013 NBA All-Star Game, the league announced Wednesday.

“Houston is a spectacular sports city, and for one week it will be the basketball capital of the world,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “NBA All-Star is a magnificent celebration of our game, and I want to thank the city and the Rockets for welcoming us once again.”

The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played on Sunday, Feb. 17 at the Toyota Center. The city will also host the NBA Rising Stars Challenge and NBA All-Star Saturday Night. The entire weekend of festivities will broadcast on TNT.

“I am thrilled the Rockets and the City of Houston have once again brought NBA All-Star to Toyota Center. The All-Star Game showcases the best basketball players in the world and will allow our great Rockets fans and the entire community the opportunity to once again experience the best that our league has to offer,” said Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.

All-Star Weekend was also held in Houston in 2006 and featured the Houston Rockets’ own Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. “T-Mac” led all scorers with 36 points but lost out on the MVP trophy to the then 21-year-old LeBron James. The hot shooting of James powered the East to a 122-120 victory over the West.

“The 2006 All-Star Game in Houston was a tremendous success, and we plan to set the bar even higher in 2013,” Alexander said.

Next year’s All-Star festivities mark the third time the NBA’s greatest talents will be showcased in Houston. The city also hosted in the 1989 NBA All-Star Game, as Karl Malone led the West all-stars to a 143-134 victory over the East in the Astrodome.

This year’s All-Star Game will take place Feb. 26 in Orlando, Fl. at the new Amway Center.

Printed on Thursday, February 9, 2012 as: All-Star Game finds a home

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming works his way around Jazz center Mehemet Okur in a 2007 game. Injuries forced the former No. 1 overall pick and 8-time All-Star to retire. Ming, 30, played his entire NBA career for Houston. He finishes as the Rockets’ sixth-leading scorer with 9,247 points and second-leading shot-blocker with 920 blocks. (File Photo)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Retired Houston Rockets center Yao Ming could enter the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as early as next year — not as a player but as a contributor to the game.

John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall, said Tuesday that Yao has been nominated by a member of the Chinese media, and his credentials will be considered by an international panel. As a contributor, Yao would bypass the usual five-year waiting period for retired players.

The 7-foot-6 Yao retired in July after leg and foot injuries ended his eight-year NBA career. The eight-time All-Star averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in the NBA.

He’ll also be remembered for his global impact on the league, almost single-handedly expanded its reach throughout Asia.

Doleva said a panel of seven “experts on the international game” will consider Yao’s credentials, and six of the seven will have to approve Yao’s election. The panel is only allowed to select one individual, and Doleva said Yao will be facing about 12-15 other candidates for induction next year.

The deadline for nominations is Nov. 1. Doleva says a member of the Chinese media contacted him to ask about the categories available for individuals and submitted a formal application this week on Yao’s behalf.

“It has to go through the process,” Doleva said. “There is no guarantee when someone is nominated that they will be elected in their first year. That’s kind of what makes the process work. The committee takes a look at the pros and cons.”
Yao can certainly make a compelling argument.

His charisma and popularity helped spike merchandise sales and prompted record TV ratings for games after the Rockets made him the top overall pick in the 2002 draft. NBA commissioner David Stern called Yao “a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game.”

Yao also donated $2 million to set up a foundation to rebuild schools destroyed by the earthquake in Sichuan province in May 2008. He carried the Olympic torch through Tiananmen Square and his country’s flag during the opening ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, now a television analyst, said Yao deserves Hall of Fame consideration, not just for his statistics but for his unprecedented impact on the game. Van Gundy coached Yao from 2003-07.

“He’s been one of the greatest ambassadors to ever set foot on an NBA floor,” Van Gundy said. “This guy touched so many people and really opened doors in China, not only for himself but for so many others.”

Doleva said Yao could make more history if he’s inducted as both a contributor and as a player. He’ll first be eligible as a player with the class of 2017.

“There are examples of people who have been elected as players and then elected as coaches,” Doleva said. “But there has never been anyone elected as a contributor and then elected as a player or a coach. That’s not to say it can’t be done; there are no rules against it. But it would be the first time.”

Printed on Thursday, August 11, 2011 as: Recently retired Yao Ming may join Hall as contributor

This file photo from 2006 shows Houston Rockets' Yao Ming (11), of China, scoring against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter on an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

When the Houston Rockets used the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft on a tall man from China named Yao Ming, I forced my mom to drive me home in the middle of whatever errands we were running so I wouldn’t miss the seven-footer walk across the Madison Square Garden floor.

I was 12 at the time and my favorite player was Steve Francis. Many of the draft reports leading up to Yao’s selection pinned him as the missing piece that Francis needed to bring Houston a championship.

The generation before mine had its wonder years. Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Cassell and Kenny Smith were their adolescent heroes, but to me they were relics of an older game that I couldn’t attach myself to.

But this team was my team. The team that I pretended to be a part of when I was on the driveway alone. I’d pass the ball to all of the Rockets from Francis to Cuttino Mobley to Yao (myself to myself to myself), and score the game-winning dunk. And Yao was the face of it all.

I was 15 when Yao went 13 for 14 from the field against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. My Dad and I were watching the game on a television outside, and the game ran later and later into the night. My mom frequently came out to scold both of us for caring so much about something so trivial.

“Sameer, it is a Monday night!” she yelled from the back door. “Get to sleep, you have school in the morning.”

My dad and I responded with a halfhearted, “Okay, mom,” never peeling our eyes from the screen to be sure not to miss a moment of Yao’s heroic 33-point performance. We later sang that silly ode to Yao that mimicked the famous “Ole” chant. You know the one.

“Yao Ming, Yao Ming, Yao Ming, Yao Ming! Yao Ming! Yao Ming!”

Houston later lost the series, as was the case throughout most of Yao’s career, and then the injuries began to pile on.

Still, you don’t think superheroes have the capability of going down for the count. I always assumed he’d come back and dominate like he did when I was still a wide-eyed fanatic.

Yao’s superhero moment was in 2009. My first year of college was coming to an end, and the world was significantly scarier than it had been when I was a kid. I stuffed what was the entirety of my freshman 15 in wings down the gullet at Pluckers and watched the Rockets take on the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs — the first and only time Yao had advanced past the first round.

With about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Yao bumped knees with Kobe Bryant and it was another “here-we-go-again moment.” He writhed in pain as the trainers walked him through the tunnel to end his night. I was fed up with him.

Yao was fed up with it all, too. In one of those “where-amazing-happens” instances, I watched Yao stretch in the tunnel, fend off the trainers begging him not to risk further injury and march back into the hostile Staples Center to finish the game. The Rockets won.

That is the last real memory I have of him as a player, but I prefer it that way.

You only get one childhood and a handful of childhood heroes, and after 10 or so years they are gone. Then there are new bunches of stars and heroes for 12-year-old boys and girls to help raise them, to help serve as that microcosmic reminder that everyone gets older, and that everyone has ups and downs. The only problem is you often don’t recognize it until it is too late.

Much has been written in the past few days of Yao’s global impact, and some have even talked about him being a disappointment. But to me, Yao Ming serves as reminder of all that is good at the core of sports, as well as a reminder that getting older is not a bad thing as long as you take it in stride.

In 2010, when asked about his injury issues, Yao laughed.

“I haven’t died,” he said. “Right now I’m drinking a beer and eating fried chicken. What were you expecting, a funeral?”

A friend of mine once said it is alright to be nostalgic without wanting to go back and relive it all, but I can’t quite immediately accept that. But with perspective like Yao’s, I’m working on it.