Yao Ming

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 RocketsÂ’ 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.