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July 9, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Yao

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:52 am

Friday morning, a couple of hours after I posted an article on his dim chances of returning to All-Star form after missing nearly all of the last two years with related foot and ankle problems, Yao Ming retired from the game of basketball. A long history of trouble with his feet became too much for Yao, who was not certain to ever be able to play healthy again. His career, which will end up consisting of just seven healthy seasons, was far too short both for him and for fans deprived the opportunity to see one of the game’s most unique talents.

I’m happy to have witnessed much of Yao’s last, and possibly greatest, NBA triumph. In the spring of 2009, he led the Houston Rockets to their first playoff series win since 1997, knocking off the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2. Yao got the series started by scoring 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting and 6-of-6 from the free throw line in a Game One win at the Rose Garden. Three games into the following series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Yao suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot, setting in motion the series of injuries that led to his retirement.

Because of his shortened career, Yao didn’t put up the kind of career statistics that would put him in the Hall of Fame discussion. As noted elsewhere, his international career and off-court significance will likely be enough to get him elected. A healthy Yao probably would have made it on the merits of NBA performance alone. In December, I used SCHOENE to project out a complete career for Yao, including the last two seasons. The results: 18,145 points, 9,147 rebounds and a career WARP total (107.4) similar to that of Hall of Famers Kevin McHale and Chris Mullin, for two.

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