Becoming a professional sports player is incredibly hard, but the journey is only half the battle. It’s also difficult for athletes once they reach the top. Succeeding in any league is tough, especially in one as demanding as the NBA.
To look at just how difficult it is to thrive at the professional level, this guide covers Yao Ming’s career (8 years in the NBA). The big man was incredibly iconic and quite skilled, but his time in the NBA didn’t last as long as it could have. I’ll break down why below.
A Short Lived Career
Overall, NBA players don’t last long. Not only is the road to the show extremely difficult, but there are many factors (injuries, trades, timing, ect.) that can cut a career short. The constant influx of new, younger players makes it difficult to stick around as well.
That’s why the average season count for an NBA player is 4.5 years. That average is higher than leagues like the NFL, but it’s not terribly impressive either. Some stars last ten years or more, but there are many athletes who are only around for one or two seasons.
Taking all of that into account, getting to a decade in the NBA is an impressive feat. It’s an important cutoff that greatly differs someone from a perennial player to just a flash in a pan. That’s why it’s so surprising Yao never quite got there.
Seven Years Strong
Yao Ming did not spend a ton of time in the NBA. There are a few reasons for that, but one is that he came into the league later than most. Where American-born players tend to go straight from college as soon as they can, Yao had to wait a few extra years.
He was 22 when he entered the league. That’s not particularly old as a starting point, but getting to the bigs even a few years past when everyone else does matters down the line. Everything catches up to you a little faster, and that ended up hurting Yao in the long run.
The giant center entered the NBA in 2002 with a ton of promise. He played well, adapted to the NBA’s fast-pace, and managed to bring an entirely new dimension to his team. He knew how to score, how to use his body, and was incredibly agile for someone his size.
Despite all of that, he would only stick around for eight seasons (and only truly play in seven). He put up big numbers during that time period, but time catches up to everyone. While his height was a huge asset, it was also the setback that caused him to retire early.
Big Man, Big Injuries
Yao’s first years in the league went smoothly, but it didn’t take long for things to go south. As with so many big men, he became quite injury prone as time went on. He had no problem keeping up with the NBA, but his body did not have the same ability.
Yao’s feet and ankles took too much of a beating due to his jumping and constant running. He started to suffer lower half issues halfway through his career, and never got back. While he did play throughout his first seven seasons, he only played in five games during his last year.
Yao Ming was a strong player who changed the way big men played the game. Even so, his career was much shorter than it could have been. He lasted seven years before injuries took their toll. There’s no telling how much greater he would have been if he stayed healthy.