22 July 2009

Passing Me By

It's been an incredibly entertaining NBA offseason and the first game of the Celtics' sure fire eighteenth championship season is still three months away but I gotta talk about something right now. It's been killing me. Yao Ming, the pride of China, the great seven and a half foot center, is going to have foot surgery. Again.

If he were a normal young man of twenty eight, this wouldn't be too terrible. As a middle aged athlete, this is horrific, since he'll miss all of next season. And Yao doesn't have much time to waste. His window for becoming an immortal, for winning a championship, for fulfilling his promise, is rapidly closing. In fact, it might have closed already. Big men age faster than little guys, and twenty eight plus a year of rehabilitation doesn't bode well for the rest of his career. Sports prognosticators are already declaring that we've seen the best of Yao.

The best of Yao hasn't been too bad either. He was drafted first overall seven years ago and it was a semi-toss up whether he would eventually wind up being the game's best center or a huge dud of Shawn Bradley-esque proportions. Well, he's been on an All-NBA Team five times, he's a seven time All-Star, and he owns career averages of 19 PTS, 9 REB, and 2 BLK. He shoots a sterling 52% from the floor and 83% from the charity stripe. If we re-did the 2002 draft, only Amar'e Stoudemire could outrank him.

And he's done this while having few summers off, as his commitments to Team China have kept him a very busy man. No wonder he breaks down all the time. He's gigantic, he runs around all day, and he never gets to rest. My mom would be appalled at how much abuse his body takes. She would make him sit still for two weeks, feed him like crazy, and turn off all the lights to get him to go to sleep.

The thing that has been bugging me since hearing about Yao's newest season ending injury is that he'll probably go down in NBA history as a not quite success. He won't win any championships, he won't average a 20-10, he won't get to properly showcase his competitive drive, his soft shooting touch won't be appreciated, his fine passing will be forgotten, and he'll just fade away. The last of the dinosaurs.

Superstar seven footers are always highly coveted but unless you get the best of a generation, you aren't winning a championship built around them -- thus Hakeem, Shaq, and Duncan. And even they needed true All-Star teammates as complementary pieces. The Houston Rockets have been abysmal the entire time Yao's been with them. They haven't had the worst teams but they've had the most ill fitting considering their franchise player is a potentially dominant big man.

The Rockets have never had a point guard who could/would pass. Steve Francis liked the ball in his hands way too much. Rafer Alston wasn't a real point guard. And whoever they got now isn't a passer either. And name some good shooters they've surrounded Yao with. Cuttino Mobley, maybe. That's it. Cuttino Mobley is the cream of the crop and he's pretty average. Then there are Yao's "All-Star" teammates. Steve Francis was a ballhog. T-Mac is a (constantly injured) ballhog. Ron Artest was a ballhog. Great, who's going to get Yao the ball?

If I were Yao, I'd have demanded a trade two years ago. I don't know where he would fit in, but Houston clearly ain't it. But Yao is loyal, Yao is nice, Yao is used to being part of the system. Yao's going to waste his career away on some crappy team that has done him no favors. Sure, they paid him, they tried to win with him, but they should do one more thing: trade him to a contender -- with a real point guard and shooters. I don't care if Yao doesn't actually win any championships, but he deserves to play deep into the playoffs at least once. See, Yao is a great man. He's thoughtful, he's smart, he's responsible, he's respectful, he's got wit and humor, but it's all going to be overlooked because he's not going to be a so-called winner when it's all said and done.

He deserves better. And he's likely the best Chinese basketball player we'll have for awhile. Please help him out.