Billions have inhabited the world, yet only 361 people are members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Considered basketball immortals, these players are the best of the best. Yet, like a kid in the rec center, they are still human.
Though they may be giants of the game, literal giants like Yao Ming, the Hall of Fame class of 2016 features greats whose style and skill made them huge, such as six-foot Allen Iverson.
Now that they are forever immortalized their Sept. 9 induction ceremony, it is important to understand that their lives were not entirely positives, but included many hardships.
Yao Ming, the Chinese center who stands larger than life at seven-foot-six, was one of the most promising overseas prospects ever.
When he left China to play in the NBA, Yao experienced a culture shock, but the Houston Rockets organization welcomed him with open arms.
“When I arrived in Houston on my first day, Steve Francis gave me a strong high five and a big hug to welcome me,” Yao said in his speech, according to The Player’s Tribune.
Warm welcomes were one thing, but being a 22-year-old living abroad was a different story.
Initially, he would use a translator to communicate with the press until he felt comfortable on his own, but unfortunately, one issue was not easily solved.
Speaking about one of his final seasons, “We had a great run in 2008-09, but unfortunately my injury cut things short and ended my time with the Rockets too soon.”
Yao’s injury list was nearly as lengthy as his jersey, including a bone spur in his left foot and osteomyelitis in his big toe in 2005, a broken bone in his left foot and right knee in 2006, and a stress fracture in his left foot in 2008.
His injury woes were always met with support from his peers.
“Bill Walton. You supported me all the way. Thank you for your advice and encouragement. You were the first one who called me when I woke up from my foot surgery,” Yao said in his induction speech. “You told me to stay positive. I will never forget that.”
Constant support for Yao was bountiful, but the kinks in his armor showed that despite his Hall of Famer title, Yao encountered rough spots during his career.
This trend is not foreign to A.I. either, who had a rough start from his youth.
Power and water were inconsistent from overdue bills, and after losing two of the most important male figures in his life, including Michael Freeman, his lone father figure, Iverson cut off sports.
Eventually it clicked for Iverson, who realized a professional sports career could be the ticket to supporting his family, and being a talented athlete earned him countless scholarships.
After an altercation at a bowling alley that resulted in his arrest and the loss of all Iverson’s scholarships and dreams, he still had one final chance.
“I want to thank Coach Thompson for saving my life,” Iverson said in his induction speech with a face swamped in emotion.
“My mom went to Georgetown and had to beg (Thompson) to give me a chance,” said Iverson. “And he did.”
This opportunity was all Iverson needed, being drafted first overall in 1996 after two collegiate seasons.
His trademark trash talk and conduct with the media were not appreciated, and his attitude toward practice held him back until Larry Brown came, settled him down, and molded him into the superstar the world knows today.
“Once I started to listen to Larry Brown and take constructive criticism, I learned how much of a great, great, great coach that he is,” Iverson said. “Once I started to listen to him and was coached by him, that’s when I became an MVP, I became an All-Star … and I followed his lead all the way.”
It was not just the height of Yao, or the speed of Iverson, that got these players to the Hall of Fame. It was also their humanity the qualities that we all have: humility, being humble, and being open to a new point of view that got them to the heights.
Kyle Kasharian is a business major from Green, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.