Why did the Houston Rockets draft Yao Ming?

Yao Ming is (was?) a very good player and of course he looked great on paper.  He’s now injured for the third season in a row and out for the year.  He has never been past the first round of the playoffs and it is not clear he will ever be healthy.  It is clear that players over 7’4" almost always have persistent injury problems; human beings with that frame were not meant to play professional sports, least of all contact basketball.  There are plenty of people that tall, but who has had the most successful basketball career?  I believe the answer has to be the not totally impressive Rik Smits

So why did the Houston Rockets draft Yao Ming?  They couldn’t not draft him.  The lessons for financial markets are obvious.  Drafting Yao Ming is like writing the disguised naked put.  You see the money in front of you, you see the return in front of you, you see the potential in front of you, none of the alternatives are so glamorous, and so you can’t not do it. Besides, other players get injured too.

Yao Ming, the naked put.  Think about it.


This is true but look at the rest of that draft. Jay Williams never played a full season at #2 because of a freak motorcycle accident. There is only one other player in that draft who an NBA executive would maybe put on their team now, and that is Amare Stoudamire who was coming out of high school which is also extremely risky.

If you look at the draft, there is only one other play in the entire first round who the Rockets would take today over Yao, even knowing that he has a foot injury and is out for the year. I'm not a Yao fan in particular, but think that the choice has been borne out as the right one (especially given media coverage).

Yao Ming, upside limited, lots of downside risk just like a short put... I
heard an investment expert say on TV the other day that buying a stock and
selling a call (buy/write) is less risky than buying a call!!! The buy/
write strategy is the same as selling a naked put, limited upside/
big downside risk... buying a call would be like drafting a second
rounder, little risk, unlimited upside...

The Chinese marketing aspect associated with Yao makes the choice only more compelling. It's almost as if it were meant to be - I believe the Rockets' team colors are traditional Chinese red and white, yes?

That link does not present any evidence (let alone "clear") that players over 7'4" almost always have persistent injury problems relative to other 7-footers, who of course are more likely to be get injured. The listed examples in that article are a tiny sample, most had very different body types than Yao, and in any case most failed due to terrible basketball skill more than injury.

Also, this post is a bit curious coming from someone who liked the Shaq/Marion trade for Phoenix.

Another question is why can't teams protect their franchise players from injuries obtained from unimportant games. Stress fractures seem to be avoidable if they really 'stressed' it. It is probably similar to the "naked put" idea. The coach just can't stand not to play the guy.

Also, a problem of incentives. The coach will get in trouble for not playing him every day. He doesn't get in trouble for stress fractures.

The primary incentive of owners and GMs in the NBA is not winning championships, it is about making money. Yao Ming opens a huge market in China.

(Just like everybody else is saying).

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was/is 7' 2" which is also close to 7' 4". He was also the NBA MVP six times, which is not chopped liver, and is hardly something you can do while being "always injured".

Does something magically bad occur after growing a couple of inches taller than 7' 2"?

What do you mean "human beings with that frame were not meant to play professional sports?" What were they "meant" to do? Did God create pro sports? Please, think for a moment, no one was "designed" to play pro sports, it takes a combination of luck and hard work and being that huge is both good and bad for one's chances on the basketball court. I think Yao is pretty good, definitely good enough to play in the NBA.

I guess that this post (and the comments) lead to the question: What do pro sports franchises try to maximize? And has anyone tried to empirically test the question?

1. The premise is artificial. Prior commentators have asked, Why 7'4 and not 7'2" or 6'11"? Also, don't hyper-athletic guys likr Grant Hill, Anfernee and Amare get hurt more frequently than Chuck Nevitt, Benoit Benjamin, Mark Eaton, Manute Bol? I have no idea, but I'm not asserting that I do. That Yao might have the slow, 7'+ durability gene exhibited by his predecessors, but a more proficient skill set, seems to have been the Rocket's bet.

2. There is no evidence for the premise that guys over 7’4† get hurt more frequently; saying there aren’t many good 7’4† players is besides the point.

3. The parameters of the question are pointlessly narrowed. Does Houston care about things besides Yao's "successful basketball career"? Of course they do. Flags fly forever, so 1 or 2 championships seem like a good payday. Chinese fan base could be purchased no other way.

So, I guess a good question for discussion here is how frequently do economists suffer from these infirmities (pumping bad information into squirrelly models) when they stray from their subject matter?

They were not designed for sport but people were designed to be hunters.and sport are a sublimed hunt.2 inches could look like nothing but between 99 degres and 100 there is only one degree but water only boil at 100 c degrees. 7 4 could be the breaking point.
And is also a matter of proportion ,the right mass been that tall could be to much to be athletic.Until Chamberlain there were no tall players.They were considered unfit to play.

karl- George Mikan (6'10") dominated the NBA before Chamberlain.

Shawn Bradley played 832 games, that has to be WAY above the average NBA center's career, especiall a mediocre center.

You're giving the sports finance game away. Players have been viewed as financial instruments in analysis for many years now. The ones that don't suffer terribly for it.

I agree that players as financial instruments is an important component, but it's also worth considering that if they don't actually perform on the floor they quickly loose value in this respect as well. To wit, Jay Williams, the #2 pick behind Yao was viewed as a pretty marketable guy. Even before he wrecked his career and motorcycle, he seriously damaged that marketability with crummy play and a trade request.


You're missing the point of NBA economics. Franchises profit most during the first few years of a draft pick's career -- before they have to pay him anything close to what he's worth on the open market. Houston only paid Yao $18 million for the his first four seasons combined, yet he wasn't a "project," he was an impressive force from his first game onward. He was rookie of the year in his first year, then All-NBA 3rd Team in both his 3rd and 4th years. Even leaving aside the China fans money, that's an excellent ROI.

Most players are partially selected for durability as they rise up the ranks.

7 footers are selected much more solely on their size.

Think Mike Vick in the NFL. He was so athletically superior in his pre-NFL career that durability did not matter.

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