News » The look of a Hall of Famer? Rockets' Yao is a true center, and those are hard to find


The look of a Hall of Famer? Rockets' Yao is a true center, and those are hard to find


The look of a Hall of Famer? Rockets' Yao is a true center, and those are hard to find
Come back, Yao.

The league needs you.

Losing Yao Ming would plunge the Rockets back into the one lottery in which winners aren't guaranteed a pot of gold. It would also move us one step closer to a league of 6-foot-10-inch three-point artists who treat the lane like quicksand.

Yao's tender feet are bearing the weight of a center position that's nearing extinction in the NBA.

Today's franchise centers are like Hummers. They're huge, and everyone notices them. But they're very expensive to maintain, and the owners usually tire of them after just a few years.

The Rockets had hoped to get a 25 points-per-game scorer in Yao, but he has delivered consistently at a slightly lower pace. They knew he would never be confused with Moses Malone or Shaquille O'Neal - battering rams who rarely ventured outside the paint - but what they got was a savvy player who could play with his back to the basket or by facing up. They got a capable jump shooter with a nice ability to pass out of double teams or score over them if he had to.

In essence, the Rockets got a true center in Yao.

Now he could be done at age 28 and after only seven seasons.

Yao was off to a terrific start in his career, and while he hasn't led the franchise to the finals like predecessors Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon, he qualifies as a star. The term "face of the franchise" is thrown around too much these days, but Yao is that guy in Houston.

The news that his surgically repaired foot is not healing properly should send shock waves through a league that was built on the exploits of big men.

Yao has averaged 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his career, numbers that aren't Hall of Fame-worthy at first glance. With that said, his numbers - minus the longevity - compare favorably with those of Robert Parish, who averaged 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds over 21 seasons, 12 of them spent with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

Yao doesn't have the luxury of Hall of Fame teammates, but he's quietly assumed the role of the team's superstar, even after T-Mac turned into someone named Tracy McGrady.

Still, Yao trudged on with the grace of a 7- 6 ballerina. He's rarely complained to refs, and he never threw the horribly faded McGrady under the bus. And when his foot gave way during the playoffs, Yao limped back to the court to lead his team to a win over the favored Lakers.

It wasn't the drama of Willis Reed limping from the locker room to lead the Knicks against Jerry West's Lakers, but it was the essence of a true big man. Get it done. No excuses. Only when X-rays revealed a fracture did Yao shut it down for the postseason.

Yao would have been a good player in any era, but the competition down low would have been fiercer in previous decades because there were more high-quality centers.

The old game has changed now that Magic Johnson made it sexy for big guys to dribble the ball down the court, but this league still needs centers to maintain the intrinsic beauty of Basketball, which is the inside-out game.

The center position is dying. Yao is one of only four centers who even bear mentioning in today's game. The others are Tim Duncan (he plays center on offense), Orlando's Dwight Howard and the aged Shaq, who could be gone in two or three seasons.

Today's 6- 10 youngsters would rather play like Rashard Lewis than Howard. They'd rather shoot threes than bang with other trees.

The reality is that if Allen Iverson's bad back forces him into retirement, we would move on knowing point guards Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker and others are there to pick up the slack.

What if Kobe decided to hang 'em up? Not to worry. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are just entering their primes.

But the same can't be said for the men in the middle. It's a bummer that we're seeing fewer Hummers.

Get back soon, Yao.

This league needs you.

cgolden@statesman.com; 912-5944

(GRAPHIC)

When he plays, they win (see microfilm)


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 2, 2009

 

 
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