Back in 2002, the Houston Rockets were considered to be the luckiest team in the NBA when the lottery balls bounced their way and they received the number one pick in the NBA Draft. The prize of that class? 7-6 center Yao Ming, an enigma who most had never seen play, but who had been talked about for years.
The Rockets drafted Ming with the idea of him dominating the paint for the next 10-15 years and multiple championships with a duo of Steve Francis (no seriously) outside and Yao inside. Fast forward to 2010, nobody knows where Francis is, and Ming is talking about retirement because of a bad foot injury that can’t seem to heal completely.
According to ESPN, Yao was quoted in comments to Chinese state media as saying:
If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits.
Now for anyone who has been living under a rock, the Chinese star missed all of last season after injuring his foot in the second round of the 2009 playoffs against the eventual champion Lakers.
Some reports came out at the beginning of last season that Yao might be back during the year, but eventually Houston decided to shut it down completely in hopes of him making a full recovery and being ready for this season. While Ming is working on his game and should be ready to go by camp, there’s no telling how long he will be able to hold up this season.
The idea that another foot injury could lead to retirement for Yao is a sad prospect for someone who had so much expected of him. Yao has been the face of his home country since he arrived to the NBA, and has been voted in as the All-Star starting center every year he has had the opportunity to play in the game because of it. A lot of people forget, but Yao was voted to start ahead of Shaq back in 2003 as a rookie when Shaq was still relatively in his prime.
For his career, Yao is averaging 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, hardly bad numbers, but definitely not was expected to come from such a physically imposing center.
Injuries and a lack of toughness have prevented Yao from turning into the dominant force we all expected when he was drafted in 2002, but at the age of 30 he should have another 5-6 solid seasons left in him. If he is able to return from this injury and contribute again, he will be going back to a solid Houston team that has the pieces in place to be a top-four team out West.
However, should he be forced to retire because of his recurring foot injury, it will be just another sad story of unreached potential. The All-Star games are nice, and so is the one playoff series victory, but we expected so much more when we saw a 7-6 center with a smooth shot come into the league. Sadly, the same size and body that should have made Yao a dominant center could be the reason he has to prematurely retire before he could really put it all together out on the court.
Belal Abdelfattah comes from a long background in sports writing at the Sports Authority Blog and The Block Radio. You can check out his weekly radio show OSD Radio at http://tinyurl.com/OSDRadio or follow Belal on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/belal_a