First and foremost, this isn’t something I’m really passionate about, nor will I likely every see it hanging up there in the Toyota Center if it goes up. I have been charged with addressing this issue and trying to figure out whether or not I have an opinion on this subject. So let’s blunder through this as gracefully as a 15 year old bumbles through his first make-out session. Keep a heads up because in the next couple of weeks before I’m in LA I’ll be working on the suggestions received in the mailbox (Final for evidence on the way on the 28th).
Jerseys get retired when a player has such a significant impact on a franchise that the team honors that player by making their number untouchable. They put the individual on display by putting the jersey up in the rafters for all to see and possibly tear up at the sight. The Rockets are incredibly selective as to who gets to see their jersey hung up and their number honored. Well with that said, let’s look at what the Rockets have hanging in the rafters:
Clyde Drexler (1995-1998 Houston Rockets) 18.5PPG/5.7 APG/6RPG, helped the Houston Rockets capture their second consecutive NBA title.
Calvin Murphy: (1970-1983 Houston Rockets) 17.9PPG/4.4APG/2.1RPG, shortest player in the HOF, *former Houston all time leading scorer, and averaged 1.5 steals per game in his career, had 11-1,000 point seasons
Moses Malone: (1976-1982) 23.7PPG/1.5APG/15RPG, rebounding and scoring titan, 37 boards against New Orleans in a game, had an MVP season at the age of 23 for the Rockets, and got the Rockets to the NBA finals in 1981.
Hakeem Olajuwon: (1984-2001) Greatest center ever. If I really have to go into detail about this one you deserve a banning.
Rudy Tomjanovic: (1970-1981 player 1991-2003 coach) 17.4PPG/2APG/8.1RPG, certified BAMF as a player until Kermit Washington’s douchebaggery nearly took his life on the court. Steered the Rockets to their consecutive title season. Every Rockets fan should have the words of Rudy T’s "Heart of a Champion speech" echo in their mind and chill them to the core, if they don’t, check your pulse, because I’ll kill you.
Houston Rockets 1995 repeat as NBA champions with Rudy T- "Heart of a Champion" line (via ErniePaulGeorge)
Carroll Dawson: (1980-1995 Assistant Coach 1995-2007 GM) Dawson is the key to a lot of our big men’s development, selected Yao Ming, delivered Tracy McGrady, and made Houston an active team every trade deadline. Dawson had the nads to pull the trigger on trades that had boom or bust potential. He wrapped a lot of money up but he certainly helped us out when it came to landing the big name talent that Morey keeps advertising but not delivering.
So, we can see the Rockets honor those who delivered success, impacted the team in a way regarding notoriety, or impacted the franchise in a way that no prior member of personnel had. This is where it becomes the proper place to examine Yao and whether or not he fits into any of those categories. First let’s look at the big fella’s career numbers.
Yao Ming: (2002-2011) 19PPG/1.6APG/9.2RPG averaged 1.9 Blocks per game, increased Houston’s international visibility, helped deliver the Rockets to the second round for the first time in 15 years (2003 NBA Playoffs).
So we’re looking at a man who was the focal point of breaking what I call The Nightmare, the hangover we had after the sign and trade of Hakeem Olajuwon. In many ways it was Yao’s parting gift to us as he missed the next season and his last 5 games worth of work is negligible. We have nothing but speculation now but upon reflection many Lakers fans needed a change of pants before news broke of Yao’s injury and the Rockets controlled game 1 and won it. Yao was well known for his being the face of the franchise, the friendly giant criticized for being soft or fragile. He managed to turn it on and put up some great dominating games as he went forward but then unfortunately broke down.
When I look over the qualifications it takes for the Rockets to hang your number you have to be one of the greatest to play the game or have pushed the Rockets to success beyond what was previously expected. So as I see it, Yao’s number will not hang in the rafters, but he gave us a lot, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see his number up there as a gesture to the fans. Yao, undoubtedly, warmed our hearts and made us all happy on the inside. He got us over the hump for the first time in years, which I don’t think of any of us could gripe about, I mean, we were in a hell of a dryspell and Yao broke it for us. He didn’t see us all the way to the finish but he got us farther than most of us had the opportunity to experience for quite some time.
I salute the big man, I’ll miss him, but the Rockets are very selective in their retired jerseys, Yao should not be hung up in the rafters, but I want them to honor him somehow.