When I got traded to the Houston Rockets in 2004 I really didn't know Yao Ming. He'd been in the league a few years, we'd both been to the All-Star Game and we played against each other a few times, but I had never talked to him.
I didn't think he could speak any English and I was worried about that. I thought: "How is this going to work?"
I had just won the last two scoring titles with the Orlando Magic, but I was so excited to be playing with a great big man that I knew I was going to have to work with him and feed him the ball. But to do that, we needed communication.
How would I talk to him on the court? Would I have to look over at an interpreter on the bench every time we needed to say something to each other? I was thinking maybe we'd have earpieces or something.
When I finally met him, I realized two things: he does speak English and not only does he speak it, he has an amazing sense of humor.
I loved seeing his personality come out more and more over the years as he got more comfortable in Houston. That's how I really learned what an amazing person he is. He will sometimes just pretend he doesn't speak English -- he does that even to this day!
I remember when he came to my wedding reception in 2006. My family and friends were so excited and they all wanted to take pictures and get autographs, and he pretended he couldn't understand them. I just had to sit back and laugh.
Man, you never really get over his size, a guy who is 7-foot-6 and that big. Even now when we stand next to each other, I can't get over it.
That's why Yao getting into the Hall of Fame is so deserved. His skills for a man his size were just unbelievable. He could do everything. He could post up, score with either hand, shoot a jumper, he had an array of moves. He could block shots. He passed so well and that's so rare for a guy his size.
I'd never played with a big man of his caliber. I didn't know he was that skilled before I came to the Rockets, but then I saw it every day in practice, every day before games, after games. He really put in the work to perfect his craft -- he even took our technical foul shots because he was that great of a free throw shooter.
He had a mean streak, too. You'd see it come out whenever he'd get dunked on.
"They didn't see Michael Jordan play, they saw us. They saw Yao."
Tracy McGrady, on playing with Yao Ming in China
Then there was Yao's impact on the global game. You have to understand, before him, basketball wasn't popular in China. I had made trips there before he came into the league, and there was basketball, but it wasn't a part of the Chinese culture.
Now, there's over 300 million people in China playing because of Yao Ming.
I saw it. I felt it. That is his legacy. He brought NBA basketball to China and I will forever be thankful that I was able to be a part of it. He introduced the country to Tracy McGrady.
We were their heroes. They didn't see Michael Jordan play, they saw us. They saw Yao.
In 2007, there was a game we played in Houston against the Milwaukee Bucks when they had former No. 6 overall pick and fellow Chinese star, Yi Jianlian. It was just a regular-season game, but 200 million people watched in China.
That's Yao's impact. I was in awe.
When I think of the six seasons we played together, it hurts. It's tough for me to speak about even now. We never got a fair chance because of injuries.
We could've had a championship team, Yao and me. We had several great opportunities. There were times when we were thriving. But we could never be healthy; it's so unfortunate. The one year we had the team -- we'd gotten Luis Scola, Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry, Carl Landry, Ron Artest -- I was thinking that was the year.
Then I blew out my knee. I was devastated. That team was so good. The guys beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round and we were in a battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round when Yao broke his foot. That was our year.
What if. So many what ifs.
We still had some great memories. We hosted the All-Star Game in Houston together and we both addressed the crowd before the game and he spoke in English, I'll always remember that. It was awesome.
We had a 22-game winning streak in 2007-08, the fourth-longest run in NBA history. Even then, Yao got hurt after the 12th win. If we had something to hold onto, that's it. When we were both healthy, we really were great together.
Yao is truly a great and humble person. You just can't recognize his accomplishments on the court without seeing his kindness and humbleness off it. I am proud to call Yao my friend.
He opened so many doors. He personally put me in position to have a life after basketball. I'm so lucky to have had a chance to know him, play with him and to work with him. He has a legacy very few have, and he has been and will continue to be a great influence.
It's what he does, it's who he is.