Elvin Hayes

Born: November 17, 1945
Position: Power Forward and Center
Professional Career:
San Diego Rockets (NBA): 1968-’71
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1971-’72; 1981-’84
Baltimore Bullets (NBA): 1972-’73
Capital Bullets (NBA): 1973-’74
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1975-’81

Elvin Hayes (celtic-nation.com)
Elvin Hayes (celtic-nation.com)

The Big E is the only player in NBA history to have played 50,000 minutes.

Oh sure, three other players have played more minutes than that, but none have played exactly 50,000 minutes like Elvin. That kind of monumental memorability was something typical of Hayes’ career. As a college standout at the University of Houston, Hayes helped defeat the juggernaut UCLA Bruins led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Game of the Century played in the Astrodome (which was the world’s 8th Wonder at the time).

As a rookie, Hayes led the NBA in points per game with a sterling 28.4 starring for the San Diego Rockets. The next season he led the league in rebounds with a sizzling 16.9 per game. That same year he led the league in minutes played per game with an exhausting 44.7.

However, the Rockets were a dud on the court. They made one playoff appearance, which was in Elvin’s rookie season. A move to Houston in time for the 1971-72 season didn’t help. Hayes feuded with his coaches and the Rockets were sick of their disgruntled star center.

Hayes was traded to the Baltimore (soon-to-be-Washington) Bullets in the 1972 off-season and found much greater success. Formerly a center, the Big E slid now slid to power forward beside Wes Unseld. Hayes was the shot-blocking protector of air space around the basket, while Unseld was the rock that clogged the physical space of the defensive lane. Hayes was quick, Unseld immovable. They complemented each other perfectly and the Bullets were off flying high like Hayes dunking on the break…

Elvin_Hayes_dunks

The two stars propelled Washington to three Finals appearances in the decade (1975, 1978, 1979) and captured the 1978 NBA title after the additions of forward Bobby Dandridge and outstanding coach Dick Motta. All the while, Hayes continued to rack up the prodigious stats thanks to his lathe-like frame, his proficient mid-range jump shot, and his shot-blocking ability.

He wasn’t the most efficient player around, but there’s something to be said for a player who can produce. And from 1969 to 1980, the Big E was producing. He averaged 23.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals in this stretch. His field goal percentage nestled in at 45% and his free throws at 67%. Again, not the most efficient player, but efficiency is just but one measure of a man. Hayes in this same 12-year stretch averaged 42 minutes a game and missed only six games.

Give him immense credit for those marks of health and longevity. At age 36 in the 1981-82, he started all 82 games for the Houston Rockets (he was traded back to the Rockets in 1981) and played 37 minutes a night doing so. Only Wilt Chamberlain at that same age played more minutes than Hayes mustered.

Upon his retirement in 1984, after that second-stint with the Rockets, the Big E ranked third all-time in points, rebounds, and blocks. And of course his minutes played were the most at that time. So were his games played.

These prodigious stats certainly don’t mean Elvin was perfect or without fault. His shooting percentage was a bit low for a power forward. His free throw percentage a tad woeful. But these nitpicks are just that, nitpicks.

He’s one of the handful of truly great power forwards in the game’s history… even if we tend to forget that fact.

Honors

Champion (1978)
3x All-NBA 1st Team (1975, 1977, 1979)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1973-74, 1976)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1974-75)
All-Rookie Team (1969)
12x All-Star (1969-80)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1303 games):
21.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG
.491 TS%, .452 FG%, .670 FT%
17.7 PER, .116 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (96 games):
22.9 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG
.501 TS%, .464 FG%, .652 FT%
19.1 PER, .135 WS/48

Clyde Drexler

Born: June 22, 1962
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1983-’95
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1995-’98

Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)
Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)

To pull out an old, cliched writing trick… Webster’s Dictionary defines “glide” as the following:

: to move smoothly, continuously, and effortlessly

: to go or pass imperceptibly

It’s a term that connotes ease, that signifies freedom from agitation. Clyde Drexler as a basketball player encapsulated these attitudes and mores. Despite being one of the more exciting players in the NBA during the 1980s and 1990s, it was quite often an understated excitement, if possible.

His dunks came about in such a gliding ease. He rose majestically and flowed seamlessly through the atmospheric fluid flushing home the jam. Seemingly lacking even less effort was the way Drexler could extend  and wind his way into gorgeous finger rolls and scooping layups that no man should ever have any business of taking, let alone making.

Well, after viewing Drexler’s highlight package, it’s kind of clear that not all of his dunks were done devoid of invigorating passion. The man could throw down a hammer on opponents.

There was so much more to Drexler’s game than the dunks and flashy layups though. He was an extraordinary passer from the big guard spot, was great on cleaning up the defensive glass, and was magnificent at anticipating woeful passes to steal. Combining all of those traits with his flair for dunking and Drexler became perhaps the most feared player on the fastbreak during his era.

He possessed beguiling dribbling handles for a man 6’7″ tall, even if he did dribbled with his head down. The tunnel vision drive, though, just made the ultimate outcome of his forays even less in doubt. He was going to glide in stride and leave you embarrassed at the end of the occasion.

The full package of skills for Clyde took a little bit to unveil itself. During his first few seasons in Portland he shared time on the wings with Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe – both All-Star players in their own right. The glut of wing depth in Portland famously caused the Blazers to pass on Michael Jordan in favor Sam Bowie, which over time would fuel comparisons between Drexler and Jordan. They had similar – though by no means not exactly the same – playing styles. And they’d eventually meet in the NBA Finals.

Drexler’s full emergence pushed aside Paxson and Vandeweghe by 1988. He averaged a sensational 27 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.5 steals that season as Portland finished with 53 wins. It was their best regular season since 1978. A brief regression in 1989 was corrected with the addition of burly power forward Buck Williams.

Drexler, Buck, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter steered Portland to a three-year reign as the Western Conference’s dominant team with 59, 63, and 57 wins respectively in the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. The Blazers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals, and succumbed to the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA Finals and Jordan’s Bulls in the ’92 Finals.

Grueling hamstring injuries to Drexler helped to undue the run of Blazer glory. By 1995, the Oregon squad was almost completely turned over and Drexler was shipped off to the Houston Rockets. Although Houston was average with Drexler during the final stretch of the 1995 season, they caught fire in the playoffs thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon’s undeniable brilliance and won the 1995 NBA title.

Although not up to the heights of his Portland days, Drexler was instrumental in the title run. In a must-win Game 4 against Utah in the 1st Round, Drexler poured in 41 points, nine rebounds, and six assists while making 12 of his 18 shot attempts. In the must-win Game 5 of the same series he produced 31 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, Clyde the Glide soared his way to 29 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Three more seasons with the Rockets followed before Drexler retired in 1998. As his career wound down, Clyde continued to be productive averaging about 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game each year. Not bad for a shooting guard in his mid-30s.

His assortment of abilities led him to play in the NBA Finals three different times  and delivered a membership on the Dream Team in 1992. He’s one of just five retired players to have averaged over 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for a career. However, when it comes to naming great shooting guards in the NBA’s history, Drexler’s name can often glide by without notice.

Well, let this serve as a reminder to always remember the magnificent ride of Clyde the Glide.

Honors

Champion (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 1991)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990, 1995)
10x All-Star (1986, 1988-’94, 1996-’97)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1086 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.547 TS%, .472 FG%, .318 3PT%, .788 FT%
21.1 PER, .173 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (145 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.532 TS%, .447 FG%, .288 3PT%, .787 FT%
19.7 PER, .134 WS/48

 

Sam Cassell

Born: November 18, 1969
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1993-’96
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1996
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1996-’97
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1997-’99
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1999-2003
Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA): 2003-’04
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2005-’08
Boston Celtics (NBA): 2008

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Honors

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (993 games):
15.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG
.544 TS%, .454 FG%, .331 3PT%, .861 FT%
19.5 PER, .141 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (136 games):
1.2 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
.525 TS%, .414 FG%, .363 3PT%, .847 FT%
15.9 PER, .093 WS/48

Billy Paultz

Born: July 30, 1948
Position: Center, Power Forward
Professional Career:
New York Nets (ABA): 1970-1975
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1975-1980; 1983
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1980-1983
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1983-1984
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1984-1985

In a 1972 game against the Squires, [Paultz] hit his first eight shots, and finished with 13 field goals in 15 attempts. Rick Barry scored 43 points and John Roche 37 points that same evening. “I get 33 and I’m the third high scorer on the team,” complained Paultz. “Are you kidding me?”

Via Complete Handbook of ProBasketball by Jim O’Brien

Now there’s an insightful quote into both, Billy Paultz and the ABA. The league was about flash and pizzazz, glitz and glamor. On a night where Paultz goes a-wreckin’ for 33 points on 13-15 shooting, he’s still not the brightest light shining on the court. Nonetheless, Paultz revealed his affable, self-effacing and humble personality in discussing his misfortune. Barry and Roche may have overshadowed him that night, but for someone with no organized basketball experience until his senior year in high school (1966), Paultz was doing quite well for himself.

Drafted by the NBA’s San Diego Rockets and the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1971, Paultz opted for the ABA and was soon traded by Virginia to his hometown New York Nets. What the Nets got was an uncoordinated heap of man that would be nicknamed “The Whopper” for his well apportioned waistline and the hamburger that kept it so.

Nets teammate Rick Barry quipped “I didn’t believe he could possibly make it…” and Jim O’Brien added his two cents: “An ardent surfer, but the way he moved at the outset of his rookie season it was hard to envision him keeping his balance on shore let alone sea.” The off-balance Whopper nonetheless averaged 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during his rookie year.

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Pro Hoops History HOF: Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Spin Cycle

Befitting a man of a thousand moves, Hakeem Olajuwon has no definitive image, but definitive motions. The nimble footwork he picked up as a soccer player paid enormous dividends on the basketball court. He had a fluidity that defied any attempt to capture it in any single position. Hakeem was always fleeting, like a Dream, across the court and in the post.

Olajuwon could swat any shot, steal any dribble, nail any jumper inside 20 feet, create any move inside 10 feet, escape any double team or trap, he was simply super human on the court.

Ok, well maybe he couldn’t do anything he wanted, but it sure seemed like it. Just let the following box scores course throw your basketball veins…

March 10, 1987: 38 points, 17 rebounds, 12 blocks, 7 steals, 6 assists
May 14, 1987, Game 6 of the WC semi-finals: 49 points, 25 rebounds, 6 blocks
WC 1st Round, 1988: 37.5 PPG, 16.8 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 57.1% FG, 88.4% FT
March 3, 1990: 29 points, 18 rebounds, 11 blocks, 9 assists, 5 steals
March 29, 1990: 18 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks, 10 assists
May 8, 1993, decisive Game 5 of WC 1st Round Series: 31 points, 21 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 steals, 3 assists
May 21, 1994, Game 7 WC semi-finals: 37 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks
The entire 1995 NBA Playoffs: 33 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.8 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 53.1% FG

And that’s just the really impressive games. There are other ones like this February 1992 effort that only had Olajuwon going for 33 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals and 4 blocks.

For such a stunning player, however, Hakeem Olajuwon’s career wasn’t entirely steady. That motion that coursed through his on-court play seemed to also create numerous peaks and collapses.

Twin Towers

The early model of the Dream was a part of the Twin Towers experiment that proved enormously successful. Hakeem and Ralph Sampson bum rushed the defending champion Lakers and pushed the Rockets to the NBA Finals where they won two games from the 1986 Celtics. That’s Celtic team is one many consider the greatest of all-time and these upstart Rockets were their toughest opponent that postseason. But by the very next year those Rockets fell apart amidst cocaine and injuries.

Hakeem 2.0 was probably the Olajuwon at his absolute peak as a physical specimen. This Olajuwon was at his zenith in 1990 when he led the league in blocks and rebounds. He was also in the midst of a run of four straight seasons averaging over 2 blocks and 2 steals per game. He was the first player to do that for a single season, let alone four. Since then only David Robinson and Gerald Wallace have accomplished the task, but they each did so once. The Rockets in this stretch were a mediocre, hollowed out team kept barely at .500 by Olajuwon’s brilliance.

Hakeem 3.0 was the nadir of Olajuwon’s career. It had been years since the Rockets had won a playoff series with the Dream. The Finals of 1986 were a pure fantasy to remember in 1992. The Rockets missed the playoffs and there were rumblings a disgruntled Olajuwon would be traded. However, in this dark shone through two tiny lights: a) Olajuwon began to take seriously his Islamic faith thus creating solemn confidence that would wreak havoc on the NBA in the following years and b) Rudy Tomjanovich took over as Rockets coach.

Hakeem 4.0 was the apex of Olajuwon’s career. Rudy T created an offense of sharp-shooters to work off of Olajuwon’s dramatic post play. The Rockets lost in the Western Semi-Finals to Seattle in 7 games that season (1993), but it was merely a growing pain for the Rockets rebirth. Hakeem finished 2nd in MVP voting that year and the next season he would capture the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Finals MVP along with the NBA title. He remains the only player to secure all three of those individual awards in the same season. In 1995 Olajuwon again repeated as Finals MVP as he led a sixth-seeded Rockets team with no home-court advantage through four opponents who had 50+ wins. They remain the only the NBA champion to run such a gauntlet.

Finally, there was Hakeem 5.0. The living legend who came close to another Finals appearance in 1997 with Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler. After averaging a career-high 28 points per game at age 32, and still averaging 19 a game at age 36, Olajuwon succumbed to Father Time’s whims in 2001 at age 39. He was still better than the average center, but being better than average was not the standard set by Olajuwon.

He retired as the NBA’s all-time leader in blocks. He was the only man to sit in the top 10 all-time for points, blocks, and steals. He retired 11th all-time in rebounds. Currently, he’s still the only player in the top 10 for points, blocks, and steals all-time. Among all NBA players from 1984-85 through 2001-02, Olajuwon was 1st in blocks, 2nd in rebounds, 3rd in points, and 4th in steals.

He was a model of versatility, a paragon of unimpeachable post movement. When Hakeem had it going, which was quite often, you could only dream of stopping him.

Years Played: 1984 – 2002

Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets

Accolades

NBA –
2x Champion (1994-’95)
2x Finals MVP (1994-’95)
MVP (1995)
2x Defensive Player of the Year (1993-’94)
6x All-NBA 1st Team (1987-’89, 1993-’94, 1997)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1986, 1990, 1996)
3x All-NBA 3rd Team (1991, 1995, 1999)
6x All-Defensive 1st Team (1987-’90, 1993-’94)
4x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1985, 1991, 1996-’97)
12x All-Star (1985-’90, 1992-’97)
All-Rookie Team (1985)

Statistics

NBA – 1238 Games
21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 2.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 51.2% FG, 71.2% FT
2x RPG Leader (1989-’90), 3x BPG Leader (1990-’91, 1993)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1984-85 through 2001-02 season)
1st Blocks, 3rd BPG
2nd Rebounds, 6th RPG
3rd Points, 11th PPG
3rd FGs Made, 20th FG%
6th FTs Made
4th Steals, 15th SPG
8th Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo (itzyourzradio.com)
Dikembe Mutombo (itzyourzradio.com)

A usually gregarious and affable man, Dikembe Mutombo was as rude a host imaginable in the NBA. He was thoroughly unwelcoming to anyone who would attempt to come into his house. Penetrating guards, sky-walking forwards, and hulking centers were equally dismissed from his abode with disdain. After rejecting these unwelcomed overtures, Mutombo would surely wave a stern finger to make sure such foolishness wasn’t tried again.

Opponents never quite got the message though.

3,289 times Mutombo would officially reject wayward shots that dared enter his domain. Thousands more he intimidated. Four times he’d be recognized as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for his stingy block parties. An irascible few succeeded in storming Dikembe’s paint and, as they claimed, climbed Mount Mutombo. These successful few led the brash many to failure.

Mutombo left this trail of devastation across a path that went from Denver to Atlanta to Philly. From New Jersey to New York to Houston. It spanned 18 years and 1196 games.

The most endearing moment in Mutombo’s career came early on, though. It was during his third season, the 1993-94 season in Denver. His 8th-seed Nuggets upended the Seattle SuperSonics in a first-round upset. Mutombo averaged a gaudy 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 6.2 blocks a game. As the Nuggets toppled Seattle, Mount Mutombo crumbled to the floor in ecstasy. 

He’d later help Atlanta to become a perennial playoff team. He pushed the Sixers into the realm of title contenders in 2001. He proved a surprisingly effective stopgap for the Rockets late in his career when starter Yao Ming went down to injury. Sadly, Mutombo’s own career ended due to an in-game injury in the 2009 playoffs.

The moment was hard to watch because a man of such intense dignity and impassioned skill was hobbled by a bad knee he could no longer control. Still, no one moment, whether ecstasy in victory or agony of injury, can encapsulate and define a person. It’s the sheer body of work, the routine, that defines a person. Mutombo’s body of work, the routine, proved that his being was pure hall of famer.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUyqp3kSYIs]

Seasons Played: 1992 – 2009

Accolades

NBA –
4x Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 1st Team (1997-’98, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1995, 1999, 2002)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2001), 2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1998, 2002)
8x All-Star (1992, 1995-’98, 2000-’02)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1992)

Statistics

NBA – 1196 Games
9.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 51.8% FG, 68.4% FT
3x BPG Leader (1994-’96), 2x RPG Leader (2000-’01)
2nd All-Time in Blocks, 7th All-Time in BPG
19th All-Time in Rebounds

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Yao Ming

Yao Ming (Yao Ming Tumblr)
Yao Ming (Yao Ming Tumblr)

Yao Ming’s story is one of titanic possibilities. He was to be the star player to crack open China’s immense market, which would boost the NBA’s profits. The Chinese government viewed as the home grown hero to place China on center stage for international basketball. For the Houston Rockets, Yao was to continue a long line of storied big men to lead Houston to playoff glory. His long train of injuries would curtail the highest hopes of all the parties.

Of course lost amidst all this is Yao Ming himself.

He may never have wholly satisfied all these hopes, but he nonetheless left an indelible mark on the NBA. He wasn’t just the first Chinese basketball player of note in the NBA, he was the NBA’s best center for a solid four-year stretch. Gripes were often made about what Yao didn’t do. His upper body wasn’t strong enough, he didn’t rebound with enough ferocity, he didn’t block enough shots, he never did enough. Somehow people let their own misguided expectations get to their heads.

What Yao Ming did was more than enough. From 2006 to 2009, Yao averaged 22 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks while shooting 52.4% from the field and 85.8% from the line. He developed a dynamite spin move. His jump shot was feathery. His hook shot unstoppable. I don’t know what else you could reasonably ask for from a center offensively and on the boards. Defensively, his massive body occupied a tremendous amount of space and flustered scores of driving opponents.

Among centers, Yao led them all in PPG during this period. He was 5th in RPG and in BPG. He also led all centers with significant playing time in WS/48 with .204. Dwight Howard was second with .180.

So, Yao was by most definitions the best center of this era, but his injuries limited just how often he could exhibit this domination. The injuries precluded him from ever attaining a rightful 1st Team All-NBA selection. He managed a full season just once (2009) in this period, but even then he succumbed to leg woes in the playoffs.

The amount of time spent on the court is indeed the one thing Yao never had enough of. We were robbed of seeing one of basketball’s greatest and unique centers operate during his prime for an extended period of time. The appearances Yao Ming did make, however, leave no doubt that he is a Hall of Famer through and through.

Seasons Played: 2003 – 2011

Houston Rockets 2000s

Accolades

NBA –
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (2007, 2009)
3x All-NBA 3rd Team (2004, 2006, 2008)
8x All-Star (2003-’09, 2011)

Statistics

NBA – 486 Games
19.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.9 BPG, 52.4% FG, 83.3% FT
39th All-Time FG%