Cumberland Posey from Homestead, Pennsylvania was the best African American basketball player of his time. Posey formed, operated and played for the Leondi Big Five, the most dominant team in the Black Five Era through the 1920's, winning four straight Colored Basketball World Championship titles.
Zelmo Beaty was a 6.9' center from Hillister, Texas. Beaty played seven seasons in the NBA during the 1960's where he became a 2-time All-Star before moving on to the ABA to become one of the best players in that league instead.
In 1993, Sheryl Swoopes from Brownfield, Texas won the NCAA championship and got selected as the Naismith College Player of the Year. She's also a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, 4-time WNBA champion, 2-time World Cup champion, 3-time WNBA MVP, 3-time WNBA DPOY and a 2-time WNBA scoring champion.
John McLendon from Hiawatha, Kansas was a 3-time winner of the NAIA Coach of the Year award. Coaching at Tennessee A&I (TSU) he won three consecutive NAIA championships, making him the first college basketball coach ever to do so. In 1962 he became the first African American head coach in professional sports when he got hired by the Cleveland Pipers of the ABA and the first African American basketball coach at a predominantly white university when he got hired by Cleveland State in 1966.
Darell Garretson from Long Point, Illinois was an NBA referee who officiated over 2000 games between 1967 and 1994. 269 of those games were playoff games, 41 of them were finals.
He also served as the NBA Supervisor of Officials between 1981 and 1998. That's 31 years in total.
Tom Izzo from Iron Mountain, Michigan started his college coaching career in 1979 when he was hired as an assistant coach for the Northern Michigan University. Izzo actually played for NMU between 1973 and 1977. In his last season he set a school record for minutes played while being named a Division II All-American. Izzo coached the NMU for four years before he moved on to Michigan State University as an assistant coach until 1995 when he became the head coach of the team.
During 21 seasons as the head coach at MSU the team has made 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and won one NCAA championship.
Jerry Reinsdorf from Brooklyn, New York is the current owner and Chairman of the Chicago Bulls, and the Chicago White Sox for that matter. When Reinsdorf bought the Bulls for $16,000,000 Mozgov-money in 1985 the team had zero championships and an average attendance of about 6,400 fans per game. Today the team has the highest average attendance in the league with 21,820 fans per game and six championship banners.
Allen Iverson only stands 6 feet tall but was still one of the most offensive talented point guards to have ever played the game. He averaged more than 30 points per game in four different seasons.
With quickness and an unmatched ability to handle the ball (Kyrie might be up for the challenge) Iverson quickly became one of the best guards in the league, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1997.
He also won four scoring titles, was an 11-time All-Star and won the MVP award in 2001.
Allen Iverson Career Retrospective
Then there is those two guys above. Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal.
Those are the people who just got inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, the class of 2016.
Not everybody could be physically there though as four of them are dead and AI is... AI.
Yeah, he actually missed his flight because of a "personal situation" and showed up when the induction ceremony was already over. He did however answer some questions with Yao and Shaq later on. Correction, Shaq later answered AI and Yao's questions for them...
Shaq and Yao have always had a special connection, both were dominating centers in their primes and their first meeting was just the start of a fierce rivalry undeniably filled by mutual respect.
It started in 2003 with three blocked shots by Yao in Houston and ended in Phoenix, with their last game being played against each other in April, 2009. Shaq had 22 points and 10 rebounds that game while Yao got 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Centers of the Universe - First matchup between Shaq and Yao
When Shaq finally understood that Yao speaks english
Of the 13 times they faced off in the regular season Yao won seven while averaging 18.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game in those games. Shaq had 22.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.5 blocks per game.
The playoff matchups were more one-sided as Shaq's Lakers defeated Yao's Rockets 4 to 1 when they met in the first round of 2004 playoffs.
But yesterday as Yao Ming became the first Chinese to get inducted into the Hall of Fame they had one last meeting, with Shaq giving Yao this one last cute assist.
With the new game of small ball those guys are perhaps the last two dominating centers of a dying era.
It gets very obvious when you consider that San Antonio Spurs led the league in post up scoring with 14.8 points per game this season. Shaquille O'Neal alone scored 14 points per game on post ups for Miami Heat in 2005 - 2006, at age 33.
Probably the strongest player to play in the NBA since Wilt, we are likely not to see a player of Shaq's caliber again any time soon, if ever. Players of his size and mobility are just against the laws of nature.
There were always questions about Shaq's work ethics, how he took care of his body and mostly his weight. There's a funny story of how Phil Jackson would try to get Shaq in better shape in their first season together.
Jackson had told Shaq that he wanted him to be the leader of the Lakers but there was an issue about his weight. Jackson elected not to bring it up to avoid getting off on the wrong foot and instead he waited five games into the season and stopped Shaq when he walked off the court.
"What’s the best thing Wilt ever did?"
"Averaging 50 points and 20 rebounds per game" said Shaq.
Jackson then told Shaq that Wilt played every minute of every game and asked if Shaq could do the same.
"I can do that" Shaq replied.
Jackson played Shaq 48 minutes per night during the following week until teammate John Salley walked up to Jackson a few games later.
"Shaq says if you can give him a rest tonight, will you give him a rest?"
I don't even want to think about how dominant O'Neal would have been if he had that drive to put a hundred percent effort into it.
Shaquille O'Neal played 1207 regular season games, averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting .582 in field goal percentage.
4x NBA Champion
3x NBA Finals MVP
1x NBA MVP
15x NBA All-Star
8x All-NBA First Team
2x All-NBA Second Team
4x All-NBA Third Team
3x All-Defensive Second Team
2x NBA scoring champion
1993 NBA Rookie of the Year
1x Olympic Gold Medalist
1x World Champion
Shaquille O’Neal Career Retrospective
While Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming carry a lot of similarities they are the complete opposites of each other when it comes to preparing for the game. A lof of the respect Yao has gotten from teammates and opponents - like O'Neal - are about his incredible work ethic, which is the only reason a man can be 7.6' tall and still have that kind of touch.
Have you ever before heard of a big man taking the technical free throws for his team?
Most of us probably remembers the incredible play below as well.
Yao Ming's incredible free-throw offensive rebound
That a player of his status had his career destroyed by injuries is just tragic for everyone who loves basketball. Had he been healthy for the full length of career he would very possibly have become a top 5 center to ever play in the league. During 8 seasons he was able to put up 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals and 1,9 blocks per game while shooting .524 in field goal percentage and a very impressive .833 in free throw percentage for someone his size.
But Yao wasn't only a incredible player on the floor, he has done a lot off the floor as well, and much so for the sport of basketball. Tracy McGrady recently said that in China people don't know Michael Jordan, they know Yao Ming. When Yao and his Houston Rockets played the Milwauke Bucks on November 9, 2009 it was the first time he and Yi Jianlian faced off in the NBA. The game was watched by an estimated 250 million people in China. In comparison ESPN said viewership peaked with 44,511,000 viewers during Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Before Yao basketball wasn't even a very big sport in China, today there are more than 300 million Chinese people who play the game. Of those 300 million players, we can only hope that there is at least one who will develop into anything close to Yao Ming.