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Yao Ming eligible for Hall of Fame in 2012 as contributor to game

August 9, 2011 |  3:19 pm

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Yao Ming could be on the fast track from player to Hall of Famer.

The 7-foot-6 Houston Rockets center retired just last month, and normally there's a five-year waiting period before a player is considered for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

But a member of the Chinese media nominated the hugely popular player from his country as a contributor to the game, making him eligible to enter the Hall as early as next year.

Hall Chief Executive John Doleva said Tuesday that Yao's credentials would be considered by a panel of seven “experts on the international game.” If six of them approve his election, he's in. But the panel can elect only one person each year and he will be up against about 12 to 15 other candidates for induction in 2012.

Yao has some pretty good credentials though. The top pick in the 2002 draft and eight-time All-Star played an enormous role in helping the league expand its reach throughout Asia. His huge popularity helped boost merchandise sales and prompted record TV ratings for games.

NBA Commissioner David Stern called Yao “a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game.”

Former Rockets coach and current television analyst Jeff Van Gundy said of Yao: “He's been one of the greatest ambassadors to ever set foot on an NBA floor. This guy touched so many people, and really opened doors in China, not only for himself, but for so many others.”

Yao, who averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in his eight seasons, is eligible as a player starting in 2017. He could become the first person ever elected as both a contributor and player.

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-- Chuck Schilken

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Yao Ming at his retirement ceremony hosted by China's Basketball Assn. in Beijing. Credit: China Daily / Reuters

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