Saturday, July 9, 2011

Yao Ming Retires: How Injuries Left Yao's Legacy Largely Unfulfilled

(Featured Columnist)
Yao Ming, the pioneer of Chinese basketball, is retiring from the NBA after eight seasons. The promise that came with his size and talent was never fulfilled, and now he leaves the game as a once-prized asset that could never contend with numerous injuries.

The big man that entered the NBA in the grandest of manners is leaving in the most demure way imaginable. A simple tweet let the sports world know they had lost the services of the affable giant from China.

Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first tweeted the news on Friday afternoon. He wrote, "Rockets' Yao Ming has decided to retire from the NBA, league sources tell Y! Sports. He informed the league office within past 48 hours."

I remember the anticipation of Yao Ming entering the league. This was not just another athlete entering the league, this was a promise.

With every write-up and diatribe from an ESPN talking head, Yao Ming was promised to be the next great center in the league.

His entrance into the league was less of a draft selection joining a team, and more of an invasion. We were instantly taken with the masterful center that lacked a command of the English language. I will never forget "Can I write check" as the pivotal commercial to usher in the Ming Dynasty.

The eight-time all-star took a while to get his feet under him, but he had three fantastic years that showed what could have been had the injuries he suffered not taken their toll.

Yao was the perfect blend of a European-type big man with an old-school physical presence. He had a great touch around the rim and was deadly with his turnaround chip shot. He also happened to be one of the few big men that you could actually count on making a free throw.

Yao also posed a great wall around the rim. He may have been slow moving, but he still averaged two blocks per game during four seasons.

He was an assured 20 and 10 center that was never allowed to gain traction because of his size. That body that allowed him to dominate at times also mandated that his lower half break down over exhaustive use.

In just eight seasons, Yao missed 180 games. That will be the stat that always sticks with me. A great player very well could have been legendary if his body would have allowed.

The lingering issues started in 2005 with osteomyelitis being diagnosed in his left big toe. He had surgery for that in December of that year.

In 2006, he broke a bone in his left foot. And so it went for Houston's greatest hope for another title. Year after year, he lost time due to nagging issues with his lower body.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The most recent was a stress fracture in his left ankle. The Rockets kept him out the rest of the season in the hopes that time would heal, at least, this wound.

In the background was the fear that this latest injury would be the final blow to a tumultuous career. It was.

Friday brings an end to a beautiful stay that could have been so much more. There are plenty of players that left the NBA unfulfilled from what their talents promised, all for different reasons.

Yao Ming will forever be enshrined on the Mt. Rushmore of players that retired with far more questions than answers.

The one thing we cannot deny is his stamp on the game from a global standpoint. An NBA that went largely beloved in North America and Europe saw a huge influx of interest from China once Yao Ming took to the Association.

The man with an awkward gait and slow movement ushered in an immediate interest in the game for millions of people. His greatest gift to the game then, happened off the court.

Yao Ming joins a cast of other unfinished tenures. It makes you wince a little to think of just how great the missing pieces could have been.

Once again, the greatest villain in sports rears its ugly head. There is no getting around it, injuries have taken some great athletes from this sport, and they have claimed another victim today.

Yao Ming will always be the promising star that welcomed millions of new fans to this great game. That should be his legacy going forward, one that anyone would be proud to have


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