Several weeks after the surprise retirement of the #1 big man in the league (for most of the past 20 years), Shaquille O’Neal, comes the much less-anticipated and somewhat heartbreaking report of the retirement of fellow big man, Yao Ming.
During his nine seasons in the NBA (doesn’t it seem longer than that?), Yao not only played basketball, but served as a great ambassador for the NBA to China. His jerseys were worn throughout the nation and his stardom revitalized and ignited Chinese support of the league.
At 7-foot-6, Yao was one of the tallest to ever play the game. He spent his entire career as a member of the Houston Rockets and played alongside some great players over the course of his career, including Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest.
The Houston Rockets center has been plagued by lower-body injuries throughout the second half of his career, mainly due to his size and thus the strain that he places on his knees and feet. We know that, injury-free, he had plenty of years left and was just beginning to reach his prime. It’s sad to see him go.
However, one of Yao’s agents recently spoke and said Yao has not spoken to the Rockets organization or the league about his retirement and will hold a press conference on July 20 to express his career plans. Unfortunately, due to the injuries and his lack of playing time over the past few seasons, its safe to say the man some call the “Great Wall of China” because of his imposing size in the paint has likely come to a permanent, grinding halt.
The Rockets have no comment on the report because of the lockout, and the NBA has not received official retirement paperwork from Yao.
Yao’s contract expired after last season, and the Rockets said they were interested in re-signing him if he came back healthy. Yao said in April that his professional future depended on his recovery from a stress fracture in his left ankle.
"We'd all be really happy if Yao comes back to play, and I hope he can," new Rockets coach Kevin McHale said when he was introduced last month. "I think he'll give it his best shot. His body is going to dictate if he can come back and play. That's all going to be laid out in the future."
With Shaq and Yao missing from the game, and most other big men in the league going the skill route—taking jumpers and facing opponents up instead of backing them down—we really are looking at the end of an era of dominant big men in basketball. Only Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum come to mind as true big men in the traditional sense of the term in the NBA. Is the low post game, which was such a staple in the 90s and early years of this past decade, nearly extinct?
If so, it gives us one more reason to appreciate the career and the persona of a unique player in the NBA who was great, but probably never reached his full potential due to being sidelined with injuries. The Beard and Stache would like to celebrate the career of Yao Ming. Unless, of course, he 'pulls a Favre' and announces that he’ll give it one more go.