The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame has traditionally made potential inductees wait five full NBA seasons before becoming eligible for the ultimate enshrinement. The idea is that the waiting period gives the committee time to thin out potential log jams that build up, while still maintaining a relatively steady influx of Hall-worthy players.
But this year, without any stand-out, slam-dunk candidates, the Hall is set to reduce the waiting time to five calendar years, according to Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com. That will allow players like Yao Ming, Shaquille O'neal and Allen Iverson to join the fray in 2016, going up against Chris Webber, Tim Hardaway, Michael Finley and Kevin Johnson.
O'neal and Iverson are likely shoo-ins for a 2016 nomination. Yao's case is a little more nebulous, though it too is a strong one.
Yao finished with career averages of 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks on on 52.4 percent shooting and was also an 83.3 percent career free throw shooter; a skill that seems to be fast disappearing among premiere big men. Yao was the Rockets' technical foul shooter for many years.
Yao also led the Rockets to their first playoff series victory since the Olajuwon days, with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers in 2009, and was an early-season front runner for the MVP award in 2006-2007 before succumbing to injury. He was an 8-time All Star, twice named to the the All-NBA Second Team, three times named All-NBA Third Team and made the All-Rookie team in 2003.
He was also consistent in the postseason, with his playoff averages nearly an exact image of his career regular season numbers. He had a silky-smooth jumper, a plethora of unstoppable post moves, was an adept passer, and an intimidating rim presence.
Although perhaps Yao's biggest claim to fame is his worldwide popularity as the first truly global diplomat of the game. Yao opened up hardwood love and NBA dreams to an entire segment of the world, as global interest in (and money spent on) the NBA increased multiple fold on the strength of Yao's 7'6" frame, his pleasant personality and quick wit.
After Yao's debut in 2003, the love for him quickly morphed into fascination with other players, as guys like Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant saw their popularity skyrocket overseas, leading to record-high jersey sales and worldwide interest in all of the league's teams.
Yao was the ultimate world ambassador and could have been inducted just on his Contributor status back in 2011, an honor which Yao willingly asked to forgo so that his career could be considered in its entirety after the standard waiting period was up.
Critics, however, look to Yao's injury history and lack of extensive postseason success as potential Hall pitfalls, claiming that Yao simply wasn't at his peak long enough to be worthy of the ultimate award. He was very, very good for a while, but he was only great for a short period of time.
Though it is important to note that Yao played 18 more career games than current Hall of Fame center Bill Walton.
And while Yao's NBA career isn't as decorated as Walton's, his on-court performance combined with his stellar international career and his status as a major worldwide basketball contributor has him more than deserving of a rightful place alongside the rest of the game's greats in Springfield, Massachusetts.