Yao Ming is one of the most intriguing what-ifs in NBA lore. Despite being 7'6'', he had enough agility and elite skills that made him a tough matchup for opponents on both ends of the court. However, his career was marred by injuries, limiting him to just eight seasons in the Association (he missed the 2009-10 campaign.)
Another all-time great big man Shaquille O'Neal once stated that if Yao could only avoid the injury bug, the Chinese legend could have been a top-five center of all time.
"He was very agile," O'Neal said in light of Yao's retirement announcement. "He could play inside, he could play outside, and if he didn't have those injuries, he could've been up there in the top five centers to ever play the game."
Speaking from experience
O'Neal's statement certainly has merit, given that the two had their fair share of battles during their decorated careers. Their first-ever meeting came in 2003, and countless people around the league and the world were hyped for the matchup.
The two wound up playing against each other 13 times in the regular season. Yao won seven of them, averaging 18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. O'Neal played well, too, in those battles, posting 22.9 points, 9.6 boards, and 2.5 rejections per match.
However, O'Neal had the last laugh in their head-to-head battle as he had a 4-1 record over his good friend in the playoffs.
What could have been
Through eight seasons, Yao averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per match. His best campaign came in the 2006-07 season when he recorded 25.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per contest.
One of the top international players to have played in the NBA also registered a lot of highlight-reel plays because of his scoring, defensive, passing, and footwork prowess.
Unfortunately, fans can only imagine how Yao's career would have turned out had he been able to stay healthy. Still, there is no denying that he was, and still is, one of the most influential figures in basketball.