The guy was my favorite player in the NBA. He was a giant who moved fluidly on the court, with a variety of hook shots, turnaround jumpers, and spin moves. He was a deft passer, getting his teammates involved, almost to the detriment of his team at times. He was a marvel at the free throw line, shooting 90 percent in a league where big men regularly shoot in the 50s and blame it on having big hands or some other such nonsense. He was a hard-working defender, constantly looking to develop his lateral movement so that teams could not victimize him with easy pick-and-rolls. He was the best center in the league, someone who rose to every challenge, facing down a prime Shaquille O'Neal with dignity and courage, and outshining the Man Who Would Be King, Dwight Howard, every time they played each other (if you follow basketball, I'm sure you think Dwight Howard has been the best center in basketball for quite some time; if so, check out the numbers - Dwight Howard simply could not get it done against Yao Ming). He routinely did things you would not expect from a 7'6" man, whether it be throwing a no-look pass behind his head, dazzling multiple defenders with spin-move up-and-unders, or going behind his back to finish a length-of-the-court rumble to the basket.
That's on the court. Off the court? The man was a tireless worker, the proverbial first man in the gym and last man to leave, a work ethic that helped lead the Houston Rockets to their first playoff series victory in years and the cusp of a series victory over the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant. He was a humanitarian, helping to raise money for his native country when it was struck by a vicious earthquake in 2008. He was a patriot, fighting to play in the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite the fact that he was injured the year before. He was a charmer, learning the English language enough to constantly crack up the press with playful jokes and subtle insight. And he was a global icon, opening China up to basketball in a way for which today's NBA players (and the NBA itself) should be eternally grateful.
That's what he WAS. What IS he now? A retiree at age 30. Yes, while there has not been (to my knowledge) affirmation by Yao Ming at this point, it is being reported that the erstwhile eight-time All-Star will be hanging the high tops up, waylaid by brittle feet that simply don't look to be responding to treatment. While Yao will almost certainly go into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor, we will never again get to see this singular athlete ply his trade on a basketball hardwood.
For this, I blame the idiotic, self-serving, cruel, disgusting, opportunistic Chinese government. For years, these jerks have been making this man, a 350-pound colossus with an unusual frame, play basketball for them in the NBA offseason when he should have been resting up from the year's brutalities. The guy should have been lying down at home watching Chinese soap operas or something. Instead, they had him lacing them up, playing in silly Asian Cup games against countries like Qatar and North Korea. They've been brandishing 50 percent of his check, all while ensuring that he would never be able to fully achieve his deserved legacy. When recently he and his wife had a baby girl, the Chinese government (and populace) whined about why he was having the baby in Houston, ensuring that she would be an American citizen. Well, no wonder, a$$munches! Maybe he doesn't want your sorry behinds owning her talent, lock, stock, and barrel, simply because she was unfortunate enough to emerge from her mother's womb while she was within the borders of your country.
Recently, Yao gave an interview talking about what keeps him motivated to come back from injury. One of the things he talked about was his desire to have his baby girl see him play. So I find it hard to believe that he decided to retire without giving it one more shot at a comeback. His contract with the Houston Rockets was up, but somebody would have paid him, if only for his notoriety and the devotion he carries among the billion-plus people of China. It just didn't seem like the Yao I have seen play to quit, no matter how bad his foot injuries seem to be. But then I thought about it: Sure, he could come back. He could play his 25 minutes a night and be a contributor to a team in whatever way he could. But what would that mean to the Chinese government? That's right. If he could play for money, then, of course, they would be able to make his a$$ play in more meaningless contests against the dregs of Asia's basketball community. Better to simply walk away then be dragged off to Thailand and forced to chase around some 6'6" center with zero ability whatsoever. Instead of going through with this scenario, Yao Ming has decided to, for once, proclaim his independence and exit the game on his own terms. While I will miss his unique brand of basketball genius, I can only applaud this decision.
When it comes to my sentiments toward Yao Ming, words written by the legendary bard, William Shakespeare, do better than any that I can possibly devise: "Good-night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Yao, you have left your stamp on this game. The league may never again see your like. Your grace, your heart, your touch around the basket, your ferocity, your drive to make those around you better; they will live on forever in the highlight reels.
For the Chinese government, I have no Shakespeare.
No lofty praise.
Nothing like that.
Instead, I will simply tell those Communist ingrates to go jump off the Great Wall.