Summer of the Retired Centers: Remembering the days of Shaq and Yao

The NBA next year ( if there is a next year) will not be the same without some of the most dominant centers of all time playing basketball. This summer, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming decided to hang up their shoes and retire from the game but for different reasons. Shaq retired from the game due to his age at 39 and the fact that last season he couldn’t recover from an Achilles injury. Yao had injury problems. He hurt his toe about 2 years ago and wasn’t able to sustain the health to be able to play every single day. Yao, who will turn 31 in September, missed a total of 250 regular-season games over the past six seasons due mostly to injuries to his left foot and leg.

But the reason they will be missed so much is that both players brought a new style of game to the NBA. Shaq was a bruiser in the middle and could out rebound everyone but could also muscle himself into position to be able to score on almost every single possession down the floor. Yao on the other hand was so tall at 7 foot 6 inches that he could get into any position and shoot over any other defender blocking him. His skill around the basket was just exceptional and the hands he had were what made his game from an all-star to a superstar.

But what nobody knows about these two great players of their decade is that we won’t see any other combo dominate the league like they did in the last decade. Take a look at these accolades….

Shaq ended his with 28,596 points, 13,099 rebounds, 15 All-Star selections, four championships and three NBA Finals MVP awards. He was drafted No. 1 pick in 1992 by the Orlando Magic and played for 19 seasons. He played for the Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers, and Celtics.

Yao Ming’s legacy reaches far beyond his nine years in the NBA. He arrived on the scene as the top pick of the Houston Rockets in the 2002 NBA Draft, the fifth player taken No. 1 overall by the Rockets, and third 7-footer following Ralph Sampson (1983) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1984). He also was an All Star in 8 out of his 9 seasons played in the NBA.

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 retires sixth in Rockets history in points (9,247) and rebounds (4,494), and trails only Olajuwon in blocks.

Yao also was a terrific free throw shooter — especially for his size. Among players with at least 1,000 free throws made, Yao ranked second among 7-footers in highest free throw percentage (83.3), behind only Dirk Nowitzki‘s 87.7.

Can you just imagine if these guys would play a little longer in the league? Shaq would have had 30,000 career points and Yao would have been one of the best shot blockers and could have been a near 10 time all-star. I can’t even think of a duo that could put up those records right now in the NBA. The closest combo that I could think of is Brook Lopez of the Nets and Dwight Howard of the Magic. But besides that, I don’t think anyone can do what these two have done. For a guy like me that loves the NBA, I think everyone has to sit down and just relive the moments these two have brought to the NBA. Appreciate the battles, the accomplishments, and the greatness they brought to the game that players still strive to do.

In the end, I am interested to see is what will Shaq and Yao do now that they don’t play basketball. Does Shaq make a new video game Shaq Fu or does he make a new rap CD dedicating it to Kobe Bryant? Does Yao Ming go back to China and become a hit in their basketball leagues? Does he start making new tv commercials? Does he mentor a new center and develop an All Star in China? These are all the questions I have about their post careers and I am excited to see what they do for the league and for the future. Cause we may never see dominant players like this play the game ever again. Remember the dunks and the blocks and be happy that they didn’t do it to you as a player but to everyone else who couldn’t live up to the expectation that these two did…

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