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Hall of Fame officials will allow Yao Ming to get inducted as a "contributor" to the game.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Yao receives Hall of Fame nomination as special contributor

By Scott Howard-Cooper,
Posted Aug 8 2011 8:06PM - Updated Aug 10 2011 8:27AM

Yao Ming could become an unexpected member of the next Hall of Fame class.

John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall, said Tuesday that Yao has been nominated by a member of the Chinese media and that his credentials will be considered by an international panel. As a contributor, Yao would bypass the usual five-year waiting period for retired players.

Doleva said a panel of seven "experts on the international game'' will consider Yao's credentials, and six of the seven will have to approve Yao's election. The panel is allowed to select only one individual, and Doleva said Yao will be facing about 12-15 other candidates for induction next year.

Doleva said a member of the Chinese media contacted him to ask about the categories available for individuals, and submitted a formal application this week on Yao's behalf.

"It has to go through the process,'' Doleva said. "There is no guarantee when someone is nominated that they will be elected in their first year. That's kind of what makes the process work. The committee takes a look at the pros and cons."

While there is no such thing as certainty in a balloting so secretive that even the voters are never revealed, Yao being nominated as a contributor removes the debate that might have accompanied his nomination as a player after an injury-plagued career. After announcing his retirement from the Rockets in July, he would not have been eligible for enshrinement until 2017.

This unique approach puts Yao on the ballot that is submitted in late-2011 and faces two rounds of voting before inductees for the Class of 2012 are announced at the Final Four in New Orleans. The actual enshrinement would be later in the summer, likely August, in Springfield.

Unlike the classifications for coach, player or referee that carry specific timelines for nomination, the contributor category is purposely kept all-encompassing. The Hall defines the category as "significant contributions to the game of basketball. What constitutes a 'significant contribution' shall be determined" by executives there along with the two committees that vote on induction.

Yao is the epitome of a contributor, the way he helped popularize the NBA in his native China and moved the league's lucrative business ventures forward in the most populous nation in the world, all with grace and good humor. That he averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in eight seasons on the court and was an eight-time All-Star teams elevates his standing in the history of the game, proving he could have been a true long-term force if healthy.

But the real Yao impact will always be the impact that may never be possible to measure.

When Yao retired, NBA commissioner David Stern called him a "transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game" and said "his dominant play and endearing demeanor along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have made him an international fan favorite and provided an extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China."

Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, now a television analyst, said Yao deserves Hall of Fame consideration, not just for his statistics, but for his unprecedented impact on the game. Van Gundy coached Yao from 2003-07.

"He's been one of the greatest ambassadors to ever set foot on an NBA floor,'' Van Gundy said. "This guy touched so many people, and really opened doors in China, not only for himself, but for so many others.''

As Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said in his own statement: "Yao Ming was a great basketball player, but he's distinguished himself as an even better person. From the moment he arrived in Houston with unprecedented expectations, he handled himself with poise, dignity, purpose and pride well beyond his years."

Doleva said Yao could make more history if he's inducted as both a contributor and as a player.

"There are examples of people who have been elected as players, and then elected as coaches,'' Doleva said. "But there has never been anyone elected as a contributor, and then elected as a player or a coach. That's not to say it can't be done, there are no rules against it. But it would be the first time.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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