This Saturday, September 10, 2016, former Houston Rocket and international superstar Yao Ming will take his rightful place alongside other legends of the game in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
While some may question Yao's worthiness, those in the know recognize that for his entire career, Yao was either the second best center on the planet (next to an in-his-prime Shaquille O'Neal) or the best center on the planet, once Shaq began to slow and Yao entered his prime.
Combine that with his influence on the global spread of the NBA in specific and the game of basketball in general, opening up the continent of Asia to a hardwood world previously unseen, and Yao going to the Hall of Fame is an easier slam dunk than the 7'6" giant ever had in his career.
Just ask his former coach, Jeff Van Gundy, who wrote a tribute to his former player through Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski. Van Gundy dished on Yao's talent:
"The difference between Shaq and Yao was much smaller than the gap that Yao created between himself and the next best center, Dwight Howard. Go back and watch those games, study the stats: it was complete and utter domination.
"This isn't to knock Howard, who has had a tremendous career. But Yao was clearly better. Yao's size, his post game, his free-throw shooting made him nearly impossible to guard -- and Howard was a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year."
He also talked about his preternatural work ethic:
"...Yao won over the locker room with his personality, his talent and his work ethic. In his relentless approach to work and preparation, Yao was unlike anyone I had ever coached. It didn't matter whether he had played great or poorly, whether we had won or lost. His preparation never changed. Not one day...
Among the hardest-working players I've ever been associated, Yao stands at the very top of the list."
And the current broadcast man even offered some amusing anecdotes about Yao being so polite on the court, that Van Gundy actually had to do some of the trash talking for him, which is an amusing thought for anyone that's familiar with Van Gundy's work.
"Once, we had lost T-Mac from the lineup and had a tough road back-to-back against the Lakers and Warriors. Yao was torching Kwame Brown, but fatigue was setting in. It was never easy moving that big frame up and down the floor. Yao had 35 points late in the third quarter and was bent over, breathing hard, next to Brown on the free-throw line.
Brown turned to our bench and yelled to our assistant coach, Patrick Ewing, 'Your boy is tired!'
Yao heard the opposing center and said nothing. No reaction. Well, I couldn't help myself. 'Of course he's tired,' I yelled to Brown. 'He's tired because he's been busting your ass all game.'"
Van Gundy also discuses some shared experiences with Yao in China and how good of a teammate Yao was in addition to his prodigious on-court abilities. Make sure you check out the old coach's letter here, before the Yao gets inducted into all-time basketball lore on Saturday.
Congratulations to Yao Ming. You deserve it, big fella.