Yao Ming

He was larger than life, and on opposite sides of the world, the man who stretched seven-and-a-half feet into space changed the face of basketball forever. Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in the summer of 2002, just a few months removed from having led his Shanghai Sharks to the Chinese Basketball Association championship. Already a legend in his native China, the big center was poised to test his mettle against the best basketball players in the world. In eight NBA seasons, Yao made eight All-Star rosters, averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds, and was named to the All-NBA team five times. He was also a three-time gold medalist and three-time MVP at the FIBA Asia Championships. Yao was a cultural and physical phenomenon with the personality to balance the demands of playing in a foreign land on the biggest stage while bridging the social, economic, and political landscapes of two very different worlds.