Yao, Shaq leave a big void


When the NBA finally comes back, it will be missing two global icons.

Without Shaquille O’Neal — rapper, shoe mogul and the best center of his generation — and now Yao Ming — the man who brought the world to the NBA — the league is much smaller.

Both had the game, personality and swagger that sold tickets, merchandise and worldwide appeal. Neither played much in 2010-11, but now that they’re truly gone the league has big holes in the big-man department.

When healthy, Yao changed games and, for a big man, his 83.3 free throw percentage was tops. O’Neal could move mountains under the basket, and he leaves us with lifetime of one-liners.

Who comes close to what they gave the NBA on and off the court?

It’s a different league from when Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson dominated. Now, we have 7-footers who win NBA titles with 3-pointers, flashy moves and 20-foot awkward looking fadeaway jumpers.

Dallas used to long for someone to compete with Olajuwon and Robinson. Now, all it needs inside to win a title is Tyson Chandler — a nice player and a difference maker this year, but he’s not going down as one of the all-time greats.

And he’s not selling products the way O’Neal and Yao could and can.

So, who are the most dynamic big men left?

Dwight Howard, Magic
The only center left who averages at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and the only one with star power for commercials — McDonalds, T-Mobile, adidas. And he mimics Shaq’s terrible free throws.

Brook Lopez, Nets
He upped his scoring to 20.4 per game this past season, but his rebounds dropped two per game to 6.0. The only commercial I’ve seen is on Disney with the Sprouse twins.

Nenê, Nuggets
Missed most of 2005-06 with a knee injury and 2007-08 with cancer, but he’s been dependable the past three seasons. I’m sure he’s popular in Brazil.

Andrew Bogut, Bucks
The 7-foot Aussie is the only other center besides Howard who averaged a double-double in 2010-11 at 12.8 points and 11.1 rebounds, and he led the NBA at 2.6 blocks a game. He does Time Warner spots in Milwaukee, but I couldn’t find any speaking roles.

Andrew Bynum, Lakers
He plays in Los Angeles, so you’d think he could rise into a leading man’s role. But it seems like we’re always waiting for him grow into his potential. After his last play of 2011 — knocking J.J. Barea to the floor — we’re still waiting.


When the Rockets took China’s Yao Ming at No. 1 overall in 2002, he was the first foreigner to be No. 1.

The year before, Spain’s Pau Gasol became the highest at No. 4. In the 10 years before Yao’s selection, 20 foreign-born players who hadn’t played college ball in America were drafted.

In the next 10 drafts, including Yao’s, there have been 52, including six last month led by No. 3 overall pick Enes Kanter.

Toronto took Italy’s Andrea Bargnani at No. 1 in 2006, and Australia’s Andrew Bogut was No. 1 in 2005 after playing college for Utah.

Yao didn’t start the NBA’s international infusion, but he broadened the league’s reach into China and his play further dispelled the notion that basketball is solely an American game.

Here are seven of the best players drafted from overseas since Yao:

Bargnani, PF: Has career averages of 15.1 points — 21.4 in 2010-11 — and 4.9 rebounds for Toronto.

Nicolas Batum, SF, Trail Blazers: No. 25 in 2008, the Frenchman had his best season in his third year, averaging 12.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg.

Nenê, C, Nuggets: No. 7 in 2002, the Brazilian averages 12.3 ppg and 6.9 rpg — 14.3 and 7.6 the past three seasons.

Danilo Gallinari, SF, Nuggets: No. 6 by the Knicks in 2008, the Italian averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 2010-11.

Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies: No. 48 overall in 2007, he’s blossomed in three seasons (12.6 ppg and 7.8 rpg).

Serge Ibaka, PF, Thunder: No. 24 in 2008 out of the Republic of Congo, he ended his second year atop the NBA with 198 blocks, with 9.9 ppg and 7.6 rpg.

Luis Scola, PF, Rockets: Spurs took him at No. 55 in 2002, traded him to Houston, and he’s averaged 14.3 ppg and 8 rpg in four years.

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