Four years ago today, Yao Ming retired from the NBA and professional basketball due to foot and ankle injuries that caused him to miss 250 games in his last six seasons. While his depart from the NBA was sad, as I’d watched him play for years, he was an ambassador and symbol for a nation. He is one of the most successful and popular foreign NBA athletes of all time. Yao Ming is one of my favorite ballers of all time.
Ming was the only child of two basketball players, both over 6 feet tall. After many years of high level basketball in China, Yao Ming was advised to play in the U.S.. Ming’s entrance into the NBA draft was…stressful. He was caught between the Chinese Basketball Association, where he’d won a championship for the Shanghai Sharks in his final year, and the NBA. The CBA would not release Ming to the NBA draft unless the Houston Rockets pledged to pick him first overall. Finally, the CBA granted Yao Ming permission to play in the U.S. the morning of the NBA draft. The Rockets held their end of the bargain and selected him first overall making Yao Ming the first international player ever to be selected first overall without having played U.S. collegiate basketball.
Unfortunately, the NBA did not necessarily welcome Ming with open arms. He played little his first games and scored only a few shots. Charles Barkley was famously quoted as saying he would “kiss Kenny Smith’s ass” if Yao scored more than 19 points in one of his rookie season games. In the three games since The Bet, Ming scored 18 of 20 shots from the field, and Barkley had to kiss the ass of a donkey Smith purchased, “Smith’s ass.” Ming also faced racist remarks from players in the NBA, some live on TV.
Of course, Yao Ming would have to face some of the league’s best big men. Upon his first encounter with Shaq on January 17, 2003, Ming promptly blocked Shaq twice in the opening minutes. He also made a heroic, game-winning dunk with ten seconds left in overtime. Ming’s ending stats for that game were 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks. While Shaq outperformed Ming that game in terms of stats, Ming showed that he would not be shut down easily.
As the season wound down, the NBA started collecting All-Star ballots in three languages, English, Spanish, and Chinese. For the 2003 NBA All-Star Game, Ming was voted to start for the West over O’Neal by almost a quarter million votes. Consequently, he became the first rookie to start in the All-Star Game since Grant Hill in ’95. Yao Ming finished his rookie season averaging 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Check out the video below to catch up on some Yao Ming vs. Shaq moments–also watch him dominate Dwight Howard.
Yao Ming also wore some gems on court. Going into the NBA, he was signed with Nike. At the end of his rookie season, Nike decided not to renew his contract so Ming signed with Reebok. He wore all manner of Reebok basketball models including the Reebok Pump Showstopper during his 2006-2007 season and Reebok RBK Voyager Mid during the 2007-2008 season; those are only two of many. Ming wore a lot of Reebok Hexride models. He also had some phenomenal PEs; possible the most famous is a Reebok Question Mid. My favorite PE, and a pair I own, is the beautiful Reebok Pump Omni Hexride Ming wore during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It featured a red and gold dragon that ran the length of both shoes.
From 2002-2011, Yao Ming played only for the Houston Rockets, participated in eight All-Star Games, scored 9,247 points, averaged 19 points per game, blocked 920 shots, and averaged 9.2 rebounds per game. He is undoubtedly one of the best to ever do it and his numerous philanthropic efforts make him a greater than just an NBA athlete.
Check out some more of his footwear down below and share your thoughts in the comments.