A retrospective of other tall titans
We all expected it. Even all the hype, the sky-high expectations, and the media frenzy haven’t diminished the awesomeness of the truth. Yes, Martha Stewart is a criminal. Oh, and the Rockets drafted some really tall, skinny Chinese Kid whose greatest feat to date is dominating the communists on China’s Red Army CBA team. J. Edgar Hoover would be proud. But while Martha’s little story is sandwiched between the Enron and WorldCom disasters, Yao has nothing to deflect the glare of speculation on his as-yet unproven talents. Since few of us have ever actually seen him play, we can only hope to predict his future by looking at the past. Yao is only the latest in a distinguished lineup of underachieving super big men we can call “The Skyscraper Scrubs.”
Scrub 1: Gheorge Muresan
Perhaps the only man alive who might hope to garner victory in an ugly-off with Craig Mack, Gheorge’s inhuman size more than overcame his lack of swarthy good looks as a role player and oddity for Abe Pollin’s hapless 1993-1997 Washington Bullets (Rapper Fabolous will pay well into the six figures if you can find that throwback jersey for him). Although never much more than a sideshow to the off-court antics of former Fab-Fivers Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, Muresan managed to average 12.6 points per game through his injury-shortened career with the Bullets and made for one of the few fair fights when Shaq came to town. However, his overpriced frontcourt’s lack of ability to produce will forever condemn Gheorge to infamy for the tagline: “Chicks dig it!”
Scrub 2: Mark Eaton
At 7-4, The Utah Mountain Man was also a giant even among giants. Proof positive that the truly tall are usually truly weird looking, Eaton’s beard was an obvious influence on the grooming stylings of latter day madmen Ted Kaszycinzki and Osama bin Laden. While never much of a scoring threat (he averaged 6.0 ppg for his career), he was a blocking fool, averaging 5.56 bpg in 1985-1986. Playing alongside a young and handsome Karl Malone and John Stockton, Eaton never developed as a dominant center, but his teammates would go on to win many NBA Championships. Oh no, woops, that was Bill Cartwright.
Scrub 3: Shawn Bradley
The Stormin’ Mormon, 7-6 Shawn Bradley was cut out for failure the moment he hit the NBA floor. Pitifully underdeveloped in both size and skill, the human beanpole became a target for humiliation, and in several instances, racial violence. While not an awful scorer, averaging 9.5 ppg for his career doesn’t exactly put him next in line for Shaq’s crown. While also a formidable shot-blocker, Bradley’s rail thin frame, ensured that even a husky twelve-year old could post him up (a similar worry plagues Yao). Still playing in the league as one of renegade Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s expensive toys, Bradley’s failure to develop his frame cost him his one shot at greatness.
Scrub 4: Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson does not belong on this list. You see, the biblically named Ralph was actually good. At 7-4 and only 230 pounds, he was no strapping musclehead, but in the pre-Shaq days of yore, Ralph averaged almost 20 points a game for the brightly-attired Houston Rockets (see a pattern here) of 1983-88. Replete with a halfro and look of determination, Ralph competed with the best of the 80’s tight-shorted big men.
Scrub 5: Manute Bol
The Sudanese Sensation, Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues combined to form the most mismatched duo since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in Twins. Skinny to the point of anorexic, and the tallest man on this list, Bol was the Bullets’ first foray into the seven and a half club (see Scrub 1). Much like Shawn Bradley, Manute’s lack of coordination and fundamental basketball skills made him a non-factor on offense, but he could swat the ball back to Sudan (perhaps in a lovely care package alongside large unmarked bills he would send to support Sudanese rebels fighting the government).
What Yao seems to have that most of these players lacked is solid basketball skills. Although never really tested outside of the Olympics (with a less than stellar showing against the U.S.), Yao’s inside outside game might make up for his small frame and lack of experience. On the other hand, he might not be able to handle the glaring spotlight and culture shock, only to wind up as another list of overrated draft picks put together by some snotty ESPN producer (Oh, Harold Miner, how we miss thee). But hopefully, Yao will prosper, and avoid the next episode of Skycraper Scrubs, starring Rik Smits, Arvydas Sabonis, and others yet to be named.
Faraji Whalen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com