SPORTS

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July 8, 2002

Rockets will regret drafting Yao Ming

The Houston Rockets chose Yao Ming with the first pick in the NBA draft last Thursday, hoping to replicate their success with Hakeem Olajuwon. Like Olajuwon 18 years ago, Ming is a foreign-born center who is headed to a Houston club fortunate enough to win the draft lottery. Unlike Olajuwon, who was the backbone of the Houston's two title teams, Ming seems destined for infamy as one of the (literally) biggest mistakes the Rockets' management has ever made. My conviction in this regard is due to my perception of Ming's physical condition, his mental state, and his lack of experience.

Much of my dislike for Ming comes from his appearance. Ming perpetually looks as if he's been punched in the stomach and wants nothing more than to keel over and die. His eyes seem to simultaneously beg the photographer to put him out of his sad, pathetic misery and curse the powers that be for endowing him with an overly active pituitary gland. Additionally, Ming's limbs are devoid of muscle and resemble the arms of another giant whose height "elevated" his status in the draft: Shawn Bradley. Ming simply doesn't have the girth needed to compete in the Western Conference, and while his pained expressions gain him sympathy from anyone with a heart, they won't earn him squat from referees.

The Western Conference of the NBA, translated into car terms, is a Volvo convention. All of the players are tough and able to plow through anything not protected by a layer of steel. While they might be a little slower than a compact, they are still incredibly maneuverable, able to agilely weave through traffic and turn on a dime. In some circles, for a car of their strength, they are legendary.

On the other side of the road, Yao Ming reportedly moves like a player who is a full foot shorter than he is. That's good for him. However, it should be noted that playing center in the Western conference doesn't require one to move like a 6'5" player. The prototype for dominance is Shaquille O'Neal, who moves like, well, a very agile over-seven-feet person. My point is that it doesn't matter how much like a shooting guard Ming can move, because his team wants him to play center. Yao seems to fancy himself as akin to a European-cargo van (incredibly light at the cost of strength), but he needs to realize, and his team will painfully realize, that in any collision with a Volvo, he is going to lose.

Ming's physical shortcomings — that doesn't work quite right, sorry — cannot and will not be offset by his quick wit. Shortly after he was drafted, an interviewer from NBA.com asked Ming "Do you know anything about your future teammates?" Through a translator, Ming replied "One of the players, Steve Francis. He's the one I should know because he has a lot of commercials in China."

This is not a good thing. I don't care about the Houston Rockets at all, and I know more about them than Ming seems to know. He's known of their plans to draft him for at least a month; you'd think that he would read up on his future team before subjecting himself to an interview regarding his future with them. Ming's comments convey general ignorance about the entire NBA, and would frighten me if I cared about how he will fare against players that he clearly has spent no time studying.

Luckily, Mr. Fan-of-Yao, I don't care, because, as I've said before, I don't care about the Rockets. Now, though, Ming's ignorance has made me ambivalent toward the suffering he conveys in his facial expressions.

Finally, Ming has not even played against Division I college teams, let alone NBA competition. Until the Chinese Basketball Association is scouted as thoroughly as the Duke roster is, it is absurd to rank any player from their league as the top player entering the draft. General Managers get fired for taking risks like these when they don't work out. Actually, it is usually the coach who gets fired, but in this case it really should be GM Carroll Dawson. Regardless, I feel sorry for the Houston franchise for their part in the worst business deal in recent Texas history. Wait, that probably isn't true.