As we are all well aware here at the The Dream Shake, both Robert Horry and Yao Ming are two of the best and most popular Houston Rockets of all time.
Since retirement, Yao has been elected to the Hall of Fame, been named Chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, and even has opened his own winery in Napa Valley, California. But we haven’t heard a lot from the big fellow, as he’s mostly kept to himself from a media standpoint.
Horry’s been more vocal, as he’s made numerous media appearances, often discussing his time as a Rocket, Hakeem Olajuwon’s historical standing against the other all-time big men Horry played with like Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal (hint: Hakeem’s better than both, but you already knew that), and his numerous huge playoff shots.
However, Horry hasn’t historically had much to say about Yao, being that the two never played together with the Rockets, only against each other, but according to the South China Morning Post, Big Shot Bob recently appeared on the Road Trippin’ podcast hosted by former NBAers Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson, where he was talking up Yao’s basketball IQ and feels he could’ve been one of the all-time greats were it not for injuries. Horry said:
“He was so knowledgeable of the history of basketball, and I think that’s one of the things that never gets talked about, his IQ, because of his lower body wouldn’t have went out, he’d probably be considered one of the greatest because he could play. He was very skilled, very smart.”
It was this intelligence and knowledge of the game that really impressed Horry, who claimed that Yao knew the history of players that Horry wasn’t even aware of.
“He was so big and he was such a nice guy. I got to know him well, because you know the Rockets organization, and we’d have a conversation, and he’s talking about basketball, and he’s bringing up all these old players, and I’m looking at him like, ‘Yo dude, I thought you didn’t speak English?’
“Like what the hell, how you know all these old players? He’s just going down the list and he come across a couple of players and I was like ‘who the @$& is that?’ I don’t even know who they are.”
Once you combine his intelligence and immense knowledge of the game with his unbelievable size, you had a mad scientist-like mix of a world-class basketball player. Frye talked about that once you combined those factors with his preternatural basketball skill, Yao was virtually unstoppable.
“People don’t understand how big he was and how strong and the fact that he wasn’t just gonna bully you. He was just like ‘I’m gonna shoot this turn around jumper.’ He was so skilled.
“He shot the technical fouls for that team, no matter who was on the court. That’s how good he was.”
For those that need a refresher, Yao was drafted by the Rockets in 2002, and he immediately made his mark in the Association.
Here’s a clip of Rookie Yao going against Prime Shaq for the first time in the NBA.— That Houston Sports Fan (@HakeemThe_Dr34m) September 1, 2021
Shaq mocked Yao before the game and Yao shut him up in the first few minutes of their matchup with 3 early blocks and 2 quick buckets..
Yao was different beast!#Rockets pic.twitter.com/wkciWw1UQt
He parlayed a stellar initial season which he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting into a an eight-year NBA career in which he made the All-Star game every single season. He was twice named Second Team All-NBA and three times named Third Team All-NBA. He also led the Rockets to their first playoff series win in over a decade when they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2 in the 2009 postseason.
However, his career was injury-plagued by a variety of lower body injuries from carrying his immense size up and down the court, with the final straw coming in the second round of the 2009 playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers. After limping back onto the court in a Willis Reed-esque moment to spearhead a Houston win early in the series, doctors discovered a hairline stress fracture in his foot, and his career would essentially be over.
Without Yao, The Rockets ended up losing a tight series 4-3 (many figure Houston wins had he not gotten hurt) and Yao would miss the entirety of the following season and only play five more games in the NBA.
He finished his career with averages of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, and the Rockets retired his number 11 in 2017. Despite all these accolades, he’s still a case of “what might have been.”
But Big Shot Bob, who has seven NBA championship rings, knows what might have been had Yao been able to stay healthy. Likely so much more.