Yao Ming's retirement: Kobe Bryant credits his impact on NBA
Even through an injury-riddled career that prompted his retirement, Yao Ming's legacy leaves a definitive imprint on the NBA.
As the Houston Rockets' No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft, Yao clearly showed that he was worth the hype. He finished with career averages of 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds, including two seasons when he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds. He climbed up to sixth place on the Rockets' all-time scoring list in points (9,247) and rebounds (4,494) and trailed only Hakeem Olajuwon in blocks. And as seen firsthand by Kobe Bryant during his yearly tours in Asia, Yao significantly enhanced the NBA's brand in China.
"In terms of opening up doors for Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA, or for the youth here in China to believe that it’s possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player, all that started from Yao," Bryant told reporters in China.
"The movement that started in the NBA of the influx of European players coming to the NBA was started by Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and those guys. "Even that movement didn’t have the impact and magnitude that Yao Ming has had. And on top of that, he’s just a heck of a basketball player to boot."
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant flips a pass to a teammate after driving into the defense of Houston's Yao Ming and Courtney Lee in 2010-11 season opener. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / Oct. 26, 2010