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Yao Ming’s Retirement Provides Disappointing Ending to Landmark Career

Posted on July 20, 2011 by Dean Hybl

When healthy, Yao Ming towered over the NBA.

In a perfect world he would have played another five years and be best remembered for having a Dirk Nowitzki –like moment where he put the Houston Rockets on his back and carried them to an NBA title. However, that was not the destiny for the NBA’s first Chinese superstar as fragile feet proved to be too much for Yao Ming to overcome.

Now that he has officially retired from the NBA after missing 250 games over the last six seasons, we are left to wonder what might have been had Ming’s body allowed him to live up to his full potential.

Unlike fellow NBA top pick Greg Odom, whose entire NBA career has been marred by injuries, we were able to get a glimpse of the talents of the 7-foot-6 Yao Ming during his first three seasons in the league.

After being the first overall pick in the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets in 2002, Ming played in 244 of 246 games during his first three NBA seasons. During that time, his production continued to increase from 13.5 points as a rookie to 17.5 in his second year and 18.3 during his third season.

His first battle with an injury occurred during the 2005-2006 season when Ming developed osteomyelitis in his big toe and missed 25 games. However, he quickly recovered from the injury and had his finest season to-date with averages of 22.3 points and 10.4 rebounds.

The Chinese born player was also becoming the NBA’s biggest global superstar and one of its most popular players. He was named to the NBA All-Star team every year between 2003 and 2009 and often received the most All-Star votes of any player.

A knee injury during the 2006-2007 season kept Ming out of what would have been his fifth All-Star game, but he recovered in time to help the Rockets secure home court advantage in the playoffs for the first time in his career. In 48 games he had a career-high average of 25 points per game while pulling down 9.4 rebounds per contest.

In the 2007 playoffs against the Utah Jazz, Ming averaged 25 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest. However, after winning the first two games, the Rockets were unable to close the deal and lost in the seventh game at home despite a 29 point performance from Ming.

During the 2007-2008 season, Ming and the Rockets finally seemed ready to emerge as one of the top teams in the NBA. Houston won their last eight games before the All-Star break and increased the streak to 12 straight. However, during the stretch Ming suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and underwent season ending surgery. The Rockets stretched the winning streak to 22 games following Ming’s injury, but again did not advance past the first round of the playoffs.

Yao Ming's greatest moment was being able to participate in the 2008 Olympics in his own country.

There was much pressure on Ming in the summer of 2008 because the Summer Olympics were being held in his home country of China for the first time. After extensive rehab, Ming was able to play in the Summer Olympics and averaged 19 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

The following season proved to be his last healthy NBA season as Ming played in 77 games and again helped the Rockets to the playoffs. He averaged 19.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while converting 54.8% of his field goal attempts.

The Rockets won 50 games in the regular season and then defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs. Ming scored 28 points as the Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the first game of their second round series, but after scoring 31 combined points in the next two games, it was revealed that Ming had a hairline fracture in his left foot and he didn’t play in the final four games as the Rockets lost the series in seven games.

Ming missed the entire 2009-2010 campaign after surgery to his left ankle. He tried to return for the 2010-2011 season, but after just five games it was announced that he developed another stress fracture and would miss the remainder of the season. Even though out of the lineup, Ming was voted to his eighth All-Star game in 2011.

Because he played at such a high level when healthy, you can’t help but wonder might have been for Ming and the Rockets had he been able to stay healthy. He finished his NBA career with averages of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and a 52.4 field goal percentage in 486 career games.

He will likely be most remembered as the player who brought the NBA to China, but Yao Ming was no circus side-show. Unlike other players of his enormous height who possessed little basketball talent, he proved capable of playing at the highest level of the game. The real shame is that like other big men including Odom, Sam Bowie, Bill Walton and countless others, his feet and ankles ultimately couldn’t withstand the stress and pounding.

So in retirement Ming will likely return to China and become a great ambassador for the game of basketball at the global level. We wish him much success.

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