Lost in what was actually a pretty busy basketball Wednesday -- with two FIBA tourneys sparking up, Paul Pierce and Michael Beasley's dodgy trip to China, and a possible break from the lame rhetoric in the NBA's ongoing lockout -- was the news that Yao Ming has asked the Basketball Hall of Fame to table his nomination for potential induction into the Hall in 2012. Yao had been nominated by Chinese media for consideration as a contributor, and while many of us think that under those guidelines he should be a unanimous first-ballot guy, Yao apparently doesn't want anything to do with the jump ahead.
His agent John Huizinga, quietly and without further comment, got in touch with the Hall of Fame to relay Yao's wishes.
The Hall of Fame wasn't as quiet. From the Associated Press:
KRIV-TV first reported the request. Huizinga did not immediately return a phone message.
[Hall of Fame president and CEO John] Doleva said Huizinga told him that Yao feels it's too soon for him to be placed on the ballot.
"He (Huizinga) indicated that Yao has great respect for the institution and equal respect for those elected before his consideration," Doleva said in a phone interview. "He just feels that it's too soon to be considered as a contributor."
The protocol for retired players, and sadly Yao is amongst that lot right now, is that they can make the Hall of Fame five years after their retirement. Had Yao's career continued on the same arc that it was spiraling at back in 2007, he easily would have been a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer without any "contributor" consideration.
The Basketball Hall of Fame is a tricky business, though, full of politics and David Stern's influence (which would and I'm sure did work in Yao's favor in this instance), even as it ignores significant Hall of Fame-worthy NBA types year in and year out. Artis Gilmore retired over 20 years ago, and he was just inducted two weeks ago. Dennis Rodman last played in 2000, and the NBA's best rebounder ever wasn't even considered a prospect until earlier this year. Tex Winter's offense was the driving force behind 11 NBA championships over the last 20 years, and yet the Hall waited way, way too late to call him in.
As a player, Yao likely falls short. Career averages of 19 points, over nine rebounds and two blocks in just 32 minutes a game (played mostly on low-possession teams) are no joke. But he managed just 486 contests during a career that started in 2002, and that's pretty tough to look over when you consider it took Gilmore 18 Hall of Fame tries after averaging 17, 10 and two blocks in nearly twice as many NBA games. After averaging 22 points, 17 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in nearly as many ABA games as Yao played NBA contests. And that's after a stellar NCAA career.
Most damning of all is the way that Yao Ming understands the narrative a good chunk of American basketball fans, message board denizens, sportswriters, and even team executives and players like to prattle on about. A "does he deserve it?"-argument given just one year after Yao's retirement and potential induction. Heck, they were asking it the day of his retirement earlier this summer. I visit many message boards.
Yao, more than just about any current hoop figure we can think of, deserves contributor status without a moment's hesitation. What he's done for this game on both an international and stateside-level has created a lasting influence that we will honestly never be able to fully grasp, much less gauge. And if he wants to ride five years out before being inducted as a contributor, well, his impact will have grown even more by 2016.
What's unfortunate is that we can't fully pin this on Yao's unending sense of tact, humility and graciousness even in the most depressing of situations. The catcalls behind an "early" induction no doubt played a part in his recent decision, even if it was only a small part. And that's a shame.
How about this? Early August, next summer, we'll have ourselves a little Yao Ming Week. With the impending Mayan ruination of the universe as we know it, we might not get the chance in 2016, so we'll have a little Yao party here at Ball Don't Lie as the Hall of Fame prepares to induct the 2012 batch of deserved inductees.
(And, as a Chicago Bulls fan, it beats the hell out of running a Reggie Miller Week. Thanks for that out, Yao.)