2002 marked the birth of Amare Stoudemire, that year's top rookie. But before the Suns big man came up the ranks, the highly anticipated arrival of that year's top draft pick pulled everyone's attention from Houston to China.
For the first time, a recognizable Asian stepped his large sneakers onto the wooden floor. I'm not talking about Wang Zhi Zhi. The 7'6 Yao Ming, a stellar center out of Shanghai took his talents from the CBA into the NBA and made the Houston Rockets look like another contender.
In the middle of the past decade, Yao Ming has been the root and the trunk of the entire Houston Rockets team. He carried them, alongside the great Tracy McGrady, to consecutive playoff appearances, which all ended crumbling down to their knees.
Primarily because of Yao, the Rockets resurfaced for the first time since Clyde Drexler joined Hakeem Olajuwon in delivering a championship to Houston.
Because of consistent frustrations out of the offseason, many consider the Rockets as a young and growing team whose time may come in the latter part of the decade. Alongside their promises, McGrady and Yao have carried the team in B+ seasons. Back then, their feet contended and were still strong enough to carry the heroes carrying their team.
But in 2007, those strong feet came to a halt. T-Mac missed many games that could have led them to the playoffs and Yao often found himself in a suit, cheering for Chuck Hayes to get back on defense. The promise of another Houston championship dusked that year.
In 2009, the worst took its toll. A hairline fracture prevented Yao from playing for the entire season. That pretty much began Yao's end in the league.
Last season, management gave him 24-minute playing time every other night. Their main focus was to keep Yao healthy. But the giant feet may have fought their final battle. Their strength faded away, leading the foundation of the Houston Rockets to announce his early exit from the league last July 8.
After nine seasons of becoming an eight-time All-Star, and two-time All-NBA second-team nominee, Yao Ming emphasized that the Great Wall of China has an endpoint.
In a matter of nine years, Yao Ming served as an ambassador for the sport in his home country. He connected the U.S. to China and other parts of Asia. In those nine years, not only did Yao grab tremendous amounts of rebounds, but he also grabbed millions of hearts for being so down to earth—at 7'6".