A bunch of Hall of Famers were together to announce the 2008 list of Hall of Fame
finalists, led by another Rockets center, Hakeem Olajuwon, and his longtime rival, Patrick Ewing. As they looked back, they also saw worthy successors.
"Yao Ming is coming to that level," Hall of Fame center Bill Walton said after the announcement of the finalists. "He's got the game. He is starting this year more than ever to have the impact. He's on the verge of having it be his league.
"The way it's coming, they have a legitimate team right now. All the pieces are in place for Yao Ming to say, 'There is nothing anybody can do to keep me from what I want.' ... I just don't see it as something that might or might not happen. I think it's going to happen."
The next generation
On the weekend that two of the era's top centers moved closer to their long-assumed place in the Hall of Fame, the All-Star Game will have traditional, throw-back centers — the kind thought to be extinct — starting against each other.
Until now, Yao might not have had "all the pieces." With Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire considering himself a forward, Yao was the lone star center of his generation. But with the rapid growth of Orlando's Dwight Howard, he and Yao have each other to push and measure against.
"That will be awesome, to have a rivalry in the West, one you see two times a year, a battle head-to-head," Howard said. "It will be a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can make a little rivalry against each other.
"I think there will always be that with me and Yao. Like everybody says, big men are like dinosaurs. They're becoming extinct. Me and Yao and Andrew Bynum and Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan, there's not a lot of us. We'll try to keep the centers going and let them know you still need a good center to win basketball games."
Shaquille O'Neal began a decline before Yao or Howard reached his peak. Marcus Camby, Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have more limited roles. But Howard, 22, and Yao, 27, fall into the tradition of the centerpiece big men, and despite their age difference, they could have the prime years of their careers overlap.
"There's been a dearth of big men," said USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo, himself a Hall of Famer for his years as Suns general manager and CEO. "That's the perception and probably the reality. But the fact is there are some big men making a mark now.
"The two potential honorees for the Hall of Fame are two of the greatest who ever played in Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. It is a reminder that big men are pretty significant in having an opportunity to win a championship. Dwight Howard and Yao Ming are different in size, strengths, styles. But their dominance is significant."
Some special meetings
There was always something special about such matchups, even and maybe especially to those on the court.
"In a game, you will have more energy to play against them," Yao said. "It's a good opponent. That's a fun game.
"I'm aware of that. When you play against Marcus Camby, against Dwight Howard ... you will want to do more and more and more. That's why people like to watch LeBron (James) against Kobe (Bryant), Michael Jordan against Magic (Johnson) 20 years ago, or Shaq against Kobe a couple years ago. That's very interesting. People like to watch it. I like to watch it, too. I feel it."
Yao versus Howard has had only a few preliminary meetings. Their All-Star matchup Sunday will be their first as starters. But there is a sense that they might be heading from the All-Star fraternity meetings on one side of the hall to the even more exclusive gatherings on the other.
"Those guys are great players," Spurs star and certain Hall of Famer Duncan said. "The Ewings and Olajuwons, obviously, but Yao and Dwight, those guys have been unbelievable. They've separated themselves from the rest of the league."
And he said there eventually will be another center tandem in Springfield, Mass.
"Absolutely," Duncan said. "I don't even see a doubt in that. None at all."
Yao would not make such proclamations.
"I appreciate that, but I still have a long way to go," Yao said. "Look at all those Hall of Fame players, at their championships, or MVPs, or Defensive Player of the Years, or a lot of awards. I don't have anything yet."
But he does have a start, which has made him the center of that kind of talk, status that did not seem to unnerve him.
Yet he did have one concern.
"I'm scared they want me to do the snake again, like the one I had in Houston," Yao said.
And as the laughs surrounded him, he seemed perfectly at ease.
有一大堆的名人堂成员们正相聚一堂，宣布着2008年名人堂候选人的最后名单 ，而名单上领衔的正是火箭的另一位中锋Hakeem Olajuwon以及他多年的老对手Patrick Ewing。当他们转身回头时，他们看到了在中锋位置上的继承人 。
“姚明已经达到了那个水准，”名人堂中锋Bill Walton在宣布了最后候选人名单时说道。“他已经可以统治比赛了。这个赛季他首发上场给球队带来的影响和帮助比以往任何一个赛季都要大 。在这个位置上他正慢慢地统治着联盟。
“现在他们有着一支相当不错的球队。看来已经万事俱备 ，就等着姚明高呼‘已经没有什么人能阻挡我得到我所要的东西了’… 在我看来，那不是什么可能不可能的问题，而是肯定将发生的事情 。 ”
到目前为止 ，也许还不能说姚明已经“万事俱备”。因为当太阳队的Amare Stoudemire把他自己定位为一名大前锋时，和姚明同时代的球员中其实只有姚明一人是明星级中锋，姚明从来没有过真正的对手 。但随着魔术队Dwight Howard的迅速成长 ，他和姚明两人终于可以互相竞争，一较高下了。
“我想我和姚明之间的较量将一直持续下去。象很多人说的 ，大个子就象是恐龙，正越来越少，慢慢绝迹。我 ，姚明，Andrew Bynum，Amare Stoudemire ，Tim Duncan，联盟中没有多少象我们这样的内线大个了"。
“我们将努力保持中锋的崇高地位，让大家都明白要想赢得NBA的比赛 ，你就必须得有一名优秀的中锋 。”
Shaquille O’Neal在姚明或者Howard达到他们各自的巅峰之前已经开始江河日下了。而Marcus Camby，Ben Wallace 还有Zydrunas Ilgauskas在球队中的作用则相对比较有限。但27岁的姚明和22岁的Howard则完全符合核心中锋的传统定义 。虽然他们年龄有一定的差异，但他们很有可能会在各自的职业生涯巅峰期时在场上互相对抗。
“现在联盟里的大个球员很缺乏 ， ”美国篮球协会 ，曾因担任太阳总经理兼CEO而入选名人堂的Jerry Colangelo说道。“这是目前大部分人的认知，可能也是目前的现状 。但事实上，现在联盟里的确有那么一些大个球员表现非常出色 ，与众不同。
“这次，两位未来名人堂成员，同时也是NBA历史上最出色球员中的两位 ，正是中锋Olajuwon和Patrick Ewing。这也告诉我们大个中锋对于获得NBA总冠军有着重要的意义 。Dwight Howard和姚明在身高，力量和风格上都不尽相同，但他们在场上的统治力都是显而易见的。”
“在比赛中，当你面对这样的对手时，你总是会显得更有能量 ，”姚明说道 。“你有一个出色的对手，这样的比赛也变得很有乐趣。
“对于这一点，我很有体会。当你在比赛中要对抗Marcus Camby ，对抗Dwight Howard。 。。你就必须比平时做更多的事情。这就是为什么人们现在喜欢看LeBron (James)大战Kobe (Bryant) ，20年前喜欢看Michael Jordan大战Magic (Johnson)，或者2年前喜欢看Shaq大战Kobe 。那样的比赛真的很有意思。大家都喜欢看，我也喜欢看。所以对此我很了解 。 ”
“那些都是伟大的球员。”马刺球星 ，同时也是无可争议的未来名人堂成员Duncan说道。“以前是尤因VS奥拉朱旺，现在是姚明VS霍华德，他们都是最好的球员 ，他们已经超越了联盟中的其他球员 。”
他认为在未来的某一天，在麻省的Springfield（译者按：NBA名人堂的最早所在地）将会再次出现两位中锋前后紧挨着的状况。邓肯甚至预言，姚明和霍华德将开创新的“中锋时代 ” ，而上次中锋时代还是上世纪的的事情——奥尼尔、尤因、罗宾逊和奥拉朱旺的“四大中锋时代”。
“那是绝对的，”Duncan说道。“对此我毫不怀疑，一点都不 。 ”
“我很感谢他那么说 ，但我还有很长的路要走，”姚明说道。“看看那些名人堂成员，要么是总冠军 ，要么是MVP，要么是年度最佳防守球员，或者其它一大堆的奖项 。而我现在什么都还没有。”