Yao will reportedly be considered for the honor as a "contributor to the game," which could result in enshrinement as early as next year. He was nominated by a member of the Chinese media, according to John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall, which means Yao will be reviewed by an international panel.
It's unsurprising that a member of the Chinese media would nominate Yao for such an honor, as those in Yao's native land showed immense support for him throughout his entire career. But when the international panel comes together to consider Yao's credentials, it'd be foolish to come to a decision other than immediate enshrinement.
Yao's on-court resume looks solid at first glance. He was selected to eight All-Star Games and boasts career averages of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
But the Shanghai product played 77 or more games in only four seasons after being drafted first overall in 2002. He missed significant time from 2005 until 2008, missed 2009-10 completely and played in only five games last season before eventually retiring in July.
There's no doubt that Yao was a fantastic NBA player when healthy. In fact, one could argue that he was perhaps the league's best center at times. But with an extensive injury history, Yao's unpredictability often backed the Rockets into a corner when it came to developing a true playoff contender.
Each season, there was optimism that Yao would be able to remain healthy and be the dominant center Houston expected him to be when he was drafted. In a league with so few game-changing big men, Yao was a commodity. Yet, year after year, the big man went down, putting Houston's starting lineup in flux, as it was forced to seek replacements and change its style of play — all while dealing with Yao's hefty salary.
Simply put, the 7-foot-6 center was too injury prone to be trusted. Yao might have eight All-Star selections to his credit, but it's a total that's obviously schewed by his popularity overseas, which resulted in inflated fan voting totals.
But numbers and injuries aside, Yao was a transcendent figure that greatly changed the basketball landscape. His impact surpasses that of the some of the game's greats, even though it was mostly evident off the court.
The globalization of the NBA was largley made possible because of Yao. While the game had and continues to see an influx of European talent, it was Yao that effectively brought the game to Asia, which catapulted the NBA to new heights.
According to CNN, China is currently the largest market for the NBA outside of the U.S., drawing an average of more than 30 million viewers per week — a number that contributes greatly toward China making up half of the NBA's international revenue.
It's been reported that Yao's personal brand is valued at more than $1 billion, and he's become the nation's figurehead when it comes to the sport. No Chinese player has ever reached heights equivalent to those of Yao — not even close — and perhaps never will.
Just as Yao's NBA career was ultimately derailed by injuries, the NBA's presence within the Asian market could be derailed by his retirement. According to a July poll on Sina Weibo, a Chinese website, 57 percent of respondents said they would stop watching the NBA upon Yao's retirement.
Right now, it's impossible to tell how damaging Yao's retirement will be for the league. But what's easy to tell is how beneficial his presence has been.
Yao Ming might have been a good player. But he was a Hall of Fame "contributor."