Yao Ming Retires
July 8, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

There are precious few 7-footers that can turn into a jump hook while chewing gum at the same time, much less make a living out of it on the pro level. Yet, there Yao was. And he would have been there, even if he was 6 inches shorter than his 7-6 frame. Maybe if it weren't for those extra 6 inches, he and his Rockets would have played into the conference finals last spring. Yao Ming Retires from the NBA.

Yao had struggled with foot injuries throughout his career, and they eventually forced his retirement.

More reactions: SBNation's Tom Ziller, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Bruce Arthur on Twitter: "The NBA had two literal and figurative giants: Shaq, and Yao Ming. The league is smaller today, in every way." (Shaquille O'Neil also retired earlier this off-season).

Video highlights from the basketball court and pop culture.

Due to the lockout, Yao had to contact the league office directly since teams are currently forbidden from communicating with players.
posted by auto-correct (40 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A few years ago, I was talking to one of my friend's then-girlfriends, who didn't believe that NBA players were 6'6", 6'8" at their shortest (she figured "tall" meant 6'1" or 6'3" or so, and was flatly skeptical anyone could even be 7 feet tall).

You really should have seen the expression on her face when she saw this picture.
posted by hincandenza at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

"Maybe if it weren't for those extra 6 inches, he and his Rockets would have played into the conference finals last spring. ... That frame was never worth it."

I don't follow sports - is this saying that... he's too tall?
posted by unmake at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2011

A taste of why everyone loves Yao: Yao Ming fist bump (.gif).
posted by auto-correct at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

Does this mean we can finally take Billy Crystal out of storage to make the long-awaited sequel to My Giant?
posted by griphus at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

He is saying that Yao's feet couldn't handle the stress of supporting a 7'6" frame when said frame was running and jumping for 40 minutes a night.
posted by oddman at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2011

(Just FYI, Shaq's last name is O'Neal, not O'Neil.)

Man, I haven't followed the Rockets in a while but I always liked Yao. Just the other day I was talking with a co-worker about how his foot injuries prevented him from a truly legendary career.

On a tangent, this reminds me of one time when I was paying for gas and the attendant took a look at me (Han Chinese and 6'1") and exclaimed "Wow! You're really tall for one of your people!" I didn't really know how to react so I just mumbled something about Yao and paid and left.
posted by kmz at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

oops, hit post. So if he was "only" 7 feet tall he might have been injured so often.
posted by oddman at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2011

Chronicle coverage.
posted by resurrexit at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2011

He'll still be voted as the starting C in the All-Star game next year.

I can't say I really enjoyed watching him play, but Yao always came off as a very affable guy with a great sense of humor. Plus, he's long been an outspoken opponent of shark-fin soup, so that's cool.
posted by Ufez Jones at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Trouble was, in addition to his size putting a lot of stress on his feet, Yao never seemed to take any time off. Every summer he was off playing for China in various international tournaments. I don't know how many more years he'd have managed with a bit of downtime between seasons, but he really only had 3 or 4 injury free seasons in the NBA.
posted by IanMorr at 2:08 PM on July 8, 2011

Dammit. Beaten to the obligatory "Can't wait to see him in the All-Star game next year!" joke.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:11 PM on July 8, 2011

When I read about his lawsuit against Coca-Cola for 12 cents and an apology, I looked up to the guy. And when I nearly ran into him existing the workout room in Houston, I did the same thing. I'm 6'6, and 7'6 is... just wrong. I'm glad he's saving his feet for his old age.
posted by notion at 2:13 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

That picture of Yao, Shaq and Xtina takes a headfirst tumble into the uncanny valley.

Which is a little weird, given those are all real people.

Well, parts of Christina are real, anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yao's heart matches his stature. I'm sure he will continue to do great things as an international ambassador of basketball
posted by Renoroc at 2:17 PM on July 8, 2011

Slight derail - I thought this FPP was going to be about SI's fascinating article in a recent issue about 7-footers in general.

Fact: An actual accounting of 7-footers, domestic or global, does not exist in any reliable form. National surveys by the Center for Disease Control list no head count or percentile at that height. (Only 5% of adult American males are 6'3" or taller.) Apparently medical researchers don't track super tall people for the surprisingly unscientific reason that "the majority of diseases impede growth, hence the lack of experts on tall stature."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2011

A few years ago, I was talking to one of my friend's then-girlfriends, who didn't believe that NBA players were 6'6", 6'8" at their shortest.

That’s not really true. Most NBA point guards are 6’0” to 6’3” (Magic Johnson was considered a giant point guard at 6’9”) and most shooting guards are somewhere between 6’4” and 6’7”. Two of the greatest rebounders of all time, Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman, were only 6’6” and 6’8” respectively.
posted by mikedouglas at 2:23 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

ESPN's Henry Abbott talks about meeting a young Yao, and mentions that Yao himself only claims to be 7'3".
posted by auto-correct at 2:28 PM on July 8, 2011

From the Truehoop article: Shawn Bradley was taller
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2011

Yao is great in highlight reels. If I had only ever seen him on youtube, I'd probably think he was one of the greatest players ever. Too bad reality was much different.

Also: Yao looks downright beefy next to Bradley.
posted by mullacc at 2:45 PM on July 8, 2011

Here is another interesting photo of tall men -- Wilt Chamberlain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Andre the Giant. (note: Schwarzenegger is right at 6'1")
posted by dancestoblue at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ha! I've seen the cartoon version of that on Reddit a bunch of times, but I never imagined it was him.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:59 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

You really shouldn't mention Shawn Bradley in a post about basketball.
posted by leetheflea at 3:04 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yao is a literal and figurative giant among men.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2011

Damn. I kind of felt it would be a long time before he came back, if ever, and it was pretty clear he would be limited if he did, but it still sucks that I won't get to see him play again.

He was pretty damn funny, too. When his latest injury happened, and a reporter called for a comment, his response was priceless:

"I haven't died," he said. "Right now I'm drinking a beer and eating fried chicken. What were you expecting, a funeral?"
posted by Ghidorah at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ha! I've seen the cartoon version of that on Reddit a bunch of times, but I never imagined it was him.

Here are the others.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:41 PM on July 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

People keep saying that the NBA has less and less reliable centers than ever before. So where have all the competent if not great 7 footers gone?

There's more people playing basketball in the US and worldwide than ever before. And it's not like athletic 7 foot tall men are getting poached by other sports, like the argument that young men with good hand-eye coordination and speed are wide receivers instead of center fielders now.

Given modern diets, and training, and the NBA's worldwide reach shouldn't there be more centers than ever before, not less?
posted by thecjm at 6:20 PM on July 8, 2011

Rhomboid: it's sad someone had to explain that here. Even more sad that I starts this off with @Rhomboid. /wrists
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:37 PM on July 8, 2011

I have seen Mike Golic (six-five I think) stand next to Shaq. Shaq made Golic look tiny. I guess some of that was height, but also just general bulk - and Golic had no shortage of bulk back then. That picture with Yao, Shaq and Aguilera was shocking to me - not for how small Aguilera looked, but for how small Shaq looked beside Yao.
posted by Sk4n at 7:11 PM on July 8, 2011

Manute Bol - (Pictured here with NBA player Spud Webb. Gene Shue said that Manute Bol "looked like a blood donor who forgot to say when"
posted by jcworth at 7:20 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

thecjm, a lot of it has to do with how basketball talent is developed, I think. In previous generations, the tall kid went in the middle. Now, especially in Europe, you see a lot of teams with developemental leagues where kids who will someday be 7' are being taught shooting, dribbling, and passing in ways that they weren't taught before. You could pretty much say the second best ball-handler on the Bulls was their center, Joakim Noah. To some extent, the people who would otherwise have been a Sabonis-like center are instead training to become a Nowitzki-like forward. 30 years ago, I imagine Nowitzki, Tskita, Bargiani and the like would have been told to stand in the paint and await entry passes. The game has evolved. Those 7 footers who want to shoot the ball have to be fast and lean, so they don't pack on the weight that gives you the power that say, Shaq, or Ming, or Robinson had.

Seriously, thinking of traditional centers in the league today (not spry power-forwards playing out of position) I think you've got Dwight Howard, Zydrunas (soon to retire, too, I'd bet) Ilgauskas, Tyson Chandler, Chris Kaman (when healthy) Brendan Haywood (stretching it a bit here), and... uh, Omer Asik? Roy Hibbert? Maybe Noah, though I can see him more as a power-forward.

Perhaps this year's draft (Kanter and the rest) might have some decent centers, but with any luck, the era of the 'hey, you're tall, be a center' (Robert Swift, Olowakandi, Kwame Brown, Shawn Bradley, and so on) might be over, and teams are just learning to play with what's available. There's some great basketball being played that doesn't involve throwing the ball down low and watching a behemoth slowly backing his way down.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:26 PM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was actually just reading about this. Apparently, major rule changes in the NBA have shifted power to smaller players at the expense of the big guys.
posted by effugas at 8:14 PM on July 8, 2011

This made me think of whenever you see those "Attack of the 50 ft. Woman"-style movies, and how scientists are quick to chime in about just how unrealistic that is because the human frame can't support that kind of size. The basic notion being, the larger you get, the more you end up having to resemble a dinosaur. Yao was a brontosaurus of a man.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:26 PM on July 8, 2011

Here is a comparison of some of the salient physical facts about Yao and Shaq:

7-5 Height 7-1
296 Weight 330
18 Shoe size 22
16 in. Neck 20 in.
42 in. Chest 55 in.
36 in. Waist 45 in.
12 in. Biceps 22 in.

Yao just does not seem heavily built enough for his height.
posted by jamjam at 10:12 PM on July 8, 2011

Don't forget though, Shaq wasn't always as thick is he was later in his career: here he is as a rookie.

I think it's an absolute miracle (and a testament to his love of the game) that Shaq managed to play for as long as he did, considering the weight he put on in the last decade. Of course, the last 5 years have been almost painful to watch.
posted by auto-correct at 12:44 AM on July 9, 2011

Ghidorah, you forgot Andrew Bogut! Whatever basketball fans are left in Australia and Milwaukee are shedding a tear.
posted by babar at 2:02 AM on July 9, 2011

Not to mention Bynum. He's a very very legit center when healthy.
posted by callmejay at 6:26 AM on July 9, 2011

Yeah, I guess I forgot both Bynum and Bogut, but then again, not really. As both of you mentioned, when healthy was a key component of their traditional center-ness. Bogut, courtesy of the hideous elbow dislocation, with likey never again be the same center he was (and even that, traditional though it may have been, was pretty sad) and Bynum, for whatever fraction of a season he's healthy (being generous, let's call it 20% of a season) is pretty, uh, meh (averages of what, 16 points, 8 rebounds? or is that too much). He's got a lot of hype behind him, which I imagine ties into being 7' and playing for the Lakers a lot more than any chance of "he's the second coming of Jabbar" that Lakers' fans seem to want to believe.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:41 AM on July 9, 2011

In a game where height is such a major advantage, especially when you're playing it as a kid, and where individual star power is more the dream than in any other team sport, I imagine that the kids who are going to be 7' or more are, problematically, training from a young age to be guards and forwards. Go down to west fourth street and watch street ball sometime. Nobody has any defensive skills.

Now, a good college program will do its best to turn that around, but these days they only have one or two years really to train someone up in a key position they don't know, necessarily.

On the other hand, look at Olajuwon, who Michael Jordan and I would argue is the greatest Center in NBA history. Tons of natural talent and advantages, yes, but he grew up playing soccer. Growing up with a defensive mentality to always be where the ball was, and to let in as few goals in a basketball game as you would in a soccer match, was what made him amazing.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:01 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Dr. Rhythm will see you now   |   Tantalizing hints of the world beyond the virtual Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments