Chinese basketball star Yao Ming could enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as early as next year as a contributor to the game.
John Doleva, president and chief executive of the shrine, said on Tuesday that Yao has been nominated by a member of the Chinese media and his credentials will be considered by an international panel.
As a contributor, Yao could be elected to the Hall in next year’s class, while as a player, he would not be eligible for consideration until five years after he retired.
Yao retired last month after an eight-year NBA career that started after the Houston Rockets made him the top overall selection in the 2002 NBA draft and was marked in its closing years by leg and foot injuries that eventually forced him off the court.
An eight-time All-Star, Yao averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in the NBA after a stellar career for the Chinese national team and the Shanghai Sharks.
While Yao was not the first Chinese player in the NBA, his engaging personality made him a favorite for sponsors seeking a way to attract interest in the potentially hugely profitable China market and for NBA fans across Asia.
Doleva said a panel of seven “experts on the international game” will consider Yao’s credentials, and six of the seven must approve his election.
The panel is only allowed to select one individual, and Doleva said Yao will be facing about 12 to 15 other candidates for induction next year.
The deadline for nominations is Nov. 1. 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.
Former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, who coached Yao from 2003 to 2007, hailed the nomination.
“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.”
Doleva said Yao could make more history if he’s inducted as both a contributor and, later, 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.”