What Will Rockets Yao Ming's Legacy Be?


Rikki Grooms continues her Legacy Friday series with the Rockets' Yao Ming. It will continue every other Friday through the entire 2010-11 season.

We all know what it feels like to have a lot of pressure—the proverbial weight of the world—on our shoulders; imagine actually having the pressures of your entire country on your shoulders – weighing on your legs that already carry a 7-feet-6, 310-pound body. Now imagine the same country pressures you into playing in every International game possible while still being expected to compete for an NBA championship, not allowing your body heal from the banging and broken bones suffered from all the playing and weight and pressure.

Yao Ming has experienced pressure and responsibility like very few athletes before him, and he hasn’t let the pressure become too great for him to handle. The physical pressure on his legs and feet has been a different story, but still Yao is a worldwide phenomenon. He is to China (the world's largest nation with 1.3 billion citizens) what Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James are to the United States, and somehow even moreso. With such pressure and expectations, Yao has had to learn an important word: NO. He had to recently learn to tell his people, his government, and his fans no in order to do what’s right for himself and his family. On the NBA’s most recent visit to China, Yao finally put a limit on his appearances unlike all of the previous trips. Do you know how hard it is to tell the Chinese Government no? I don’t want to find out.

On the basketball court, Yao is arguably one of the best big men in the world – when healthy. Healthy isn’t something Yao knows a lot about since coming to the NBA. He has had osteomyelitis (an acute bone infection) in his big left toe, a broken left foot, a broken right knee, a stress fracture in his left foot, and a hair-line fracture in his left foot. And these are just the major aliments. The last injury to his left foot was thought to be career-ending and had many in China speaking of his injury in terms of “we.”

“We” is how Yao’s success is seen. He is China and his successes are China’s to own. To even play in the NBA, he had to negotiate his way out of his contract with the Shangahi Sharks and jump through some hoops with the Chinese government. This is something American athletes never have to deal with; they are basically free to play where and when they choose. It’s a freedom we often take for granted.

As a result of the latest injury, Yao will only be playing 24 minutes a game in 2010-11. Who puts a minute limit on a player and tells the whole league about it? The Houston Rockets, that’s who. Opposing teams now know they only have to deal with him for 24 minutes. If the Rockets don’t time those minutes right, it could cost them some games.

Over his career, Yao has produced, averaging 19.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 1.9 bpg…when he’s been on the floor. He has only played a full season twice; his first two seasons of his eight-year career, and last year he didn’t play at all. So far this season, Yao has averaged 22 minutes per outing (I guess the Rockets were serious), putting up averages of 13 points and 7 boards. Only time will tell if playing less minutes can keep Yao off the injured list (he’s already missed Oct. 27’s contest with Golden State).

The thing that stands out when looking back at Yao Ming’s short career is his maturity in dealing with the pressure he has experienced. Many have self imploded under much less stress/pressure/responsibility. He has embraced his responsibility to his country while balancing his personal life and the demands of the NBA. Also, had Yao been able to remain healthy despite his physical expectations, Yao might have a ring by now. Whenever his career ends, we probably won’t remember what Yao meant to the NBA and to China; sadly we will likely remember his injury-plagued career and all the what if’s.


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