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Scaletta: Yao Ming is not a Hall of Fame player

October 22, 2010: Houston Rockets center Yao Ming #11 in an NBA preseason game between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Dallas defeated Houston 97-96
Albert Pena/Icon Sportswire

The NBA has announced that the time a player has to be retired before being eligible for the Hall of Fame has been reduced from five years to four. Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com reported:

The Hall has finalized the adjustment to shorten the wait time from five seasons in retirement to four before a player can be nominated, wanting to avoid what becomes a sixth year by the time voting is complete near the end of the NBA regular season. Under the new plan, voting and potential enshrinement would come after five calendar years, rather than five NBA seasons.

Effectively, what that means is that players such as Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming are now eligible who wouldn’t have been:

The big picture is that many candidates with a strong case for first-ballot election — Iverson, O’Neal, Yao, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash — could be enshrined a year earlier. The immediate impact is that O’Neal and Yao, among others, are eligible to be nominated for the Class of 2016 and join Iverson on the previous timeline. Yao and Shaq, plus Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jason Williams (among others), could not have gone on the ballot for another year under previous Hall rules.

The problem is it creates a traffic jam of sorts, as the new entrance ramp shoots tons of new vehicles onto the road. Otherwise eligible players now have to contend with more candidates to gain induction.

It’s a short-term problem, as after four years, the “rush hour” will be over and everything will be back to normal. In the short term, though, that means that players such as Chris Webber and Tim Hardaway will have a tougher task getting in than if the NBA hadn’t changed the rules.

And the thing is, they might not get in over the less deserving, and dare I say undeserving, Yao Ming. Now, before you start typing out your irate reply telling me about how much Yao means to the game, let me qualify what I mean by that. Here’s a quote from Howard-Cooper’s article:

Yao would arguably have a clearer path if he was nominated as a Contributor, but he previously rejected that approach, even when it could have meant going on the ballot without the five-season wait required by players via the North American committee that handles most candidates with NBA ties. That would indicate he will want to be judged for his work on the court, not what his Rockets career did to popularize basketball in China, a decision that could take support away from others even if the six-time All-Star does not make the Class of 2016.

Most of the support that Yao gets (and deserves) is for his role in making the game popular in China. It’s a huge thing for the business of basketball, and if he wanted to gain entrance as a contributor, I would fully support that. But if he’s going to ask to be admitted based on his accomplishments on the court, that’s what I’m going to judge him by.

Shaquille O’Neal is easily in a class above the other names on the list. He’s a four-time NBA champion, a top 10 all-time scorer and arguably a top 10 all-time player depending on whose list you’re reading. None of the other candidates can make that claim. But let’s compare what Webber, Hardaway, Iverson and Yao have done in their total careers:

Tim Hardaway 1990 2003 867 30626 .431 .490 .782 2855 7095 1428 129 15373
Allen Iverson 1997 2010 914 37584 .425 .452 .780 3394 5624 1983 164 24368
Yao Ming 2003 2011 486 15818 .524 .525 .833 4494 769 189 920 9247
Chris Webber 1994 2008 831 30847 .479 .487 .649 8124 3526 1197 1200 17182
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2015.

Now, there’s probably some part of you that’s thinking, “That’s not fair, Yao’s career was cut short because of injury.” But his averages weren’t that spectacular by comparison either.

Tim Hardaway 867 35.3 3.3 8.2 1.6 0.1 17.7
Allen Iverson 914 41.1 3.7 6.2 2.2 0.2 26.7
Yao Ming 486 32.5 9.2 1.6 0.4 1.9 19.0
Chris Webber 831 37.1 9.8 4.2 1.4 1.4 20.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/22/2015.

And the thing about averages is they tend to wane at the tail end of a player’s career. The flip side of the argument that he wasn’t injured is that we never saw the “Kobe Bryant sunset” of his career. Ergo, the others had longer, better careers.

The other thing is that we don’t traditionally admit players who didn’t have spectacular careers to the Hall of Fame with such a short resume. There’s a small handful I can find who had less than 500 games who were primarily admitted because of what they did as players.

Maurice Stokes was on his way to becoming an all-time great over his first three years. Then he had a horrific collision and smashed his head against the hardwood. He was initially woken with smelling salts and returned to the game. However, three days later he went into a seizure, and then into a coma. He was paralyzed for the rest of his life. Over his three seasons he averaged 17.3 boards (second in the NBA), 5.2 assists (third in the NBA) and 16.4 points. He was named to three All-Star Games and eventually inducted into the Hall in 2004, 34 years after his death.

Ralph Sampson was inducted in spite of a short career, but it’s the Naismith Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame, and his inclusion was more about what he accomplished as a collegiate player than a professional one. Even his official Hall of Fame bio focuses more on his college career.

Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis were inducted with fewer minutes, but with both of them, it has more to do with what they did in their European basketball careers than as NBA players. Sabonis at his peak was arguably a top five player in the world — NBA or not. It just so happened his best years were trapped in communist Russia through no fault of his own. He retired in 2003 and was admitted in 2011.

Marciulionis is a name that’s virtually synonymous with Lithuanian basketball, and he was the first truly European player (raised entirely on European basketball) to have success in the US. He was Dirk before there was a Dirk Nowitzki. He retired in 1997 and became a member of the HOF in 2014.

Finally, there’s Drazen Petrovic, who was a European star before coming to the US and playing for the New Jersey Nets. He was rapidly becoming a star in America when he tragically died in a car accident in 1993. He gained entrance in 2002.

So here’s the point. Even the Hall of Famers who were inducted as players with unspectacular NBA resumes weren’t given it on their ballot, and they had more extra-NBA accomplishments for the most part as well. If Yao wants to go in as a player, he, at a minimum, needs to wait and, more realistically, is just undeserving.

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