Wednesday , Nov , 15 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Yao Ming: It’s Time We Recognize

Yao Ming is the best center in the NBA.

This conclusion came to me in as simple a way as could be imagined – while watching the man play.

There was no spectacular play, no gaudy piling of numbers that brought about this epiphany. No, doing nothing more than chilling at the crib, watching the Rockets take on the Heat in a Sunday night game, it hit me – Yao Ming is the best center in basketball.

Yao Ming: It's Time We Recognize

Now doubt was being surpassed by belief. Belief that when a 7-6 guy with nice touch, good range on his jumper, and decent mobility wants to be aggressive, it’s going to mean a whole hell of a lot of trouble for anyone looking to oppose him – Shaquille O’Neal included.

Shaq has been considered the most dominant player in the game for more than a decade, and with every good reason, the rings, the stats, the overwhelming dominance and physical presence. When Yao first donned an NBA uniform, he was a pup, with aspirations and potential of one day challenging Shaq being only that – aspirations and potential.

If anything, Yao was fortunate Shaq was as cool to him as he was. The Big Fella could have easily taken all the talk of Yao as a direct
insult to his Hall of Fame game and status, but instead he took the
young big man under his wing, waved to Yao’s parents in the stands
before every game, and developed a mutual respect. The only reason for
Shaq doing this is, well, he’s just cool like that.

Back then it was just a formality, a nice way of saying, “one day,
kid, but not today.” Even with the Heat being the defending champs,
even with Shaq possessing enough game to be head and shoulders above ninety percent of the league’s bigs, I can’t deny that the day has
come for the Big Diesel to give up his spot.

Shaquille O’Neal is not the best center in the NBA anymore, Yao Ming is.

Sitting there, watching the game go to commercial break after the
first quarter, I’ll be honest, I thought I was crazy. I knew I was
right, but some part of me felt that dissing on Shaq was like
committing some sort of basketball sin. Ridiculous as it sounds, I
could have sworn Shaq was about to jump through my TV screen and slap me around a few times just for thinking what I had thought.

But then, Shaq isn’t exactly being wronged here. He’s got his rings,
his legacy, and no one, certainly not me, can take that away from him.
And while I give the nod to Yao in this current state, we all know Yao
is ten years and at least four championships away from having his
career as a whole be compared to Shaq’s.

But for now, this is Yao’s time, his turn to be the league’s top big
man. And he’s earned it.

When he came into the league I said Yao flat couldn’t play. A decent
rookie season and two All-Star seasons after that thoroughly proved me
wrong on that one.

Last season my gripe was that Yao couldn’t be a dominant player who carried a team. But last season’s second half all but dismissed that
notion as well. Even so I still denied him his props by saying he only
managed it for half a season. Well now it’s looking like he’ll be that
dominant force for all 82, barring injury.

What other stones can we throw at this guy?

I’m a pretty critical guy, but so far, Yao Ming has stood up to just
about everything I can throw at him. It’s time we recognize, it’s time
we give Yao Ming his props.

It’s the second quarter now and Yao is starting to warm up. Some how I knew he would.

The thought, the one at the top of this article, the one that says Yao
is the best five man in the Association, that one, is now fully formed
in my consciousness, floating around up there prodding me to let it

I resign myself to the fate that, as a writer, almost anything that
hits my thought stream usually ends up hitting a keyboard one way or
another. So I make Yao a deal.

If Yao scores thirty, if the Rockets win, and if he out plays Shaq,
then I give him the piece for this column. No way could he do that.

But by the end of the night the Rockets have tromped the champs 94-72. Yao finishes with 34 points, 14 boards, and the long over due respect he’s been deserving, at least from this writer.

A deal’s a deal.