Hands down that Tracy McGrady was one of the better scorers in the NBA during the 2000’s.
With the likes of guard Allen Iverson and center Shaquille O’Neal in the mix, the 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class was arguably the best to ever be enshrined into Springfield, Massachusetts, but there was one controversial inductee among the group. For nine years center Yao Ming pounded in the low post for the Houston Rockets. For Ming’s NBA career, he averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds. Ming scored 9,247 career points in the NBA which is something that his critics pointed out. And although that everyone has the right to his or her respective opinion, Ming is more than worthy of his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Ming was the first overall pick of the 2002 NBA Draft by the Rockets. As a rookie, Ming would average 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds. But Ming began to stand out as a rookie when he faced O’Neal for the first time and his 7’6″ frame dwarfed that of O’Neal who is 7’1″. Ming would go on to be an eight-time NBA All-Star, and although that injuries cut his career short as he was forced to retire at the age of 30, he has been a global ambassador for the game of basketball.
Ming is a native of Shanghai, China. The city itself is home to 24 million people, but the People’s Republic of China is home to nearly 1.4 billion citizens, and they all united to support Ming. More than 7,500 miles separates Houston from Shanghai, and in spite of the 12-hour time difference, the folks in China made it their business to consistently watch Ming play. Ming played in the NBA with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, and he never wilted under it. Ming held his own in the NBA against the likes of O’Neal, former San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan, and current Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Garnett, while he also overcame culture and language barriers to succeed. At 7’6″ Ming showed solid mobility for a player of his stature, and if he posted up a defender with his huge frame, the advantage was typically his.
Ming became a Chinese superstar while his presence became a platform for the NBA to extend their global brand which is a part of their mission. Ming has always had a high level of humility which was on display last Friday during his Hall of Fame speech. And Ming’s humility was the perfect compliment to O’Neal and Iverson who’s bravado and charisma were on center stage.
At the end of the day when people are elected to a respective sports hall of fame, it isn’t always about their stats as a player, as their overall impact can be included as well which is a category that Ming falls into. And overall the NBA’s brand is in a much better place after Ming had his run in Houston.
No matter what the sport is, when a player is the first overall pick a draft, there is an immense amount of pressure that is thrust onto him. In 1992, the Orlando Magic made center Shaquille O’Neal the first overall pick of the NBA Draft, and he immediately gave professional basketball in the State of Florida life. In 1989, the Magic began life in the NBA as an expansion franchise, and it wasn’t a surprise that they were an afterthought in the league. In the Magic’s first three seasons of existence, they never won more than 31 games in a season, but that all changed when they drafted “The Diesel”.
As a rookie, O’Neal averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks to be named as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. The Magic went from winning just 21 games in the previous season before drafting O’Neal, to securing 41 victories in his first season as they missed the postseason by just one game. The Magic would get the first overall pick of the NBA Draft for the second consecutive year in 1993, and after trading the draft rights of power forward Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the draft rights of point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Orlando had a basketball duo that was ready to take the NBA by storm.
The following season would see the Magic win 50 games en route to their first playoff appearance as O’Neal led the way as he averaged 29.3 points per game and 13.2 rebounds. With O’Neal emerging as one of the best players in the NBA, and with Hardaway as his sidekick, he helped Orlando reach the NBA Finals in 1995.
A bitter contract dispute with the Magic front office saw O’Neal leave Orlando in 1996 as a free agent to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, and just as he put an expansion franchise on the map, “Shaq Daddy” was ready to resurrect a legendary organization.
In O’Neal’s first season with the Lakers, he averaged 26.2 points and 12.5 rebounds, as he found new cast of characters around him which included an upstart rookie in shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Over the next two years, O’Neal would continue to put up big numbers, but he was unable to lead the Lakers to a championship which only added fuel to the fire of his critics.
Then in 1999 after Los Angeles was eliminated in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs by the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, Phil Jackson was hired as the new head coach of the Lakers. Prior to coming to the Lakers, Jackson won six NBA Championships as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and he was charged with getting Los Angeles back to the promised land.
Jackson did so by making a great player in O’Neal greater. In 2000, O’Neal was named as the NBA’s MVP as he averaged 29.7 points and 13.6 rebounds. In the playoffs, O’Neal would averaged 30.7 points and 15.4 rebounds as he helped the Lakers win their first NBA Championship since 1988. O’Neal wasn’t done as he and Bryant would be at the forefront of the Lakers winning two more championships in 2001 and 2002. Bryant and O’Neal became one of the most unstoppable duos in NBA history, and even though that they won three titles together, egos led to the big fella being traded to the Miami Heat in 2004.
O’Neal arrived in Miami at the age of 32, and although that he wasn’t the dominant player that he was just a few years prior to that, he was still integral in the Heat winning their first NBA Championship in 2005.
O’Neal’s NBA career would also see him suit up for the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics. O’Neal would finish his NBA career in 2011 with 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 2,732 blocks, 15 NBA All-Star Game appearances, four NBA Championships, and a gold medal as a member of the 1996 United States Men’s Basketball Team, while also going down as arguably the most dominant player in the history of basketball.
At 7’1″, 330 lbs., O’Neal was very difficult to deal with on a nightly basis as he didn’t fit the norm of what a person his size could do. O’Neal had the speed of a shooting guard, the court vision and passing ability of a point guard, athleticism that ranked up there with any of the greats who have ever played the game, while being immensely strong. And once you put it all together, you got one of the greatest players in NBA history.
O’Neal has always been a kid at heart, but when he stepped onto the court, he was as serious as they came. O’Neal quickly became a cultural icon in the NBA as his strength easily saw him break backboards, while he had tremendous crossover appeal which included him starring in the 1994 film “Blue Chips”, having a video game “Shaq Fu”, and becoming a platinum selling rap artist. O’Neal has also been a spokesperson for national companies such as Pepsi which saw him become a marketing gold mine. And now as O’Neal is retired from the NBA, he continues to remain in the public eye as he is a basketball analyst for TNT, while still endorsing national brands such as Icy Hot.
It was a no-brainer that O’Neal would be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as soon as he became eligible. And O’Neal stole the show this past Friday night with his size and charisma that set him apart during his career. The Hall of Fame is for the best of the best, and it’s hard to imagine not having the best basketball players in the world calling Springfield, Massachusetts home without having some room in the garage for “The Diesel”.