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Winderman: Wait five years? Yao could be in Hall of Fame next year.

Aug 8, 2011, 5:45 PM EDT

Yao Ming Olympics China Getty Images

With his recent retirement, the waiting period officially is under way for Yao Ming.

According to enshrinement guidelines for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, “A player must be fully retired for five years before being eligible for Enshrinement. He/she may then be considered for Enshrinement in the sixth year of retirement.”

Because the Rockets center appeared in five games this past season, that would have him eligible in 2017.

Or perhaps as soon as next year.

No, there will be no special exception when it comes to the required waiting period to be enshrined as a player.

However, there is no such waiting period when it comes to enshrining a “contributor.” And that could create the need for a Beijing-Springfield non-stop as soon as next summer.

John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall, took over from here in a Monday conversation, relating a recent conversation with a China-based reporter.

“We got into the conversation about Yao as a contributor, because of what he did to bring the global viewpoint, especially China, into the basketball family and really kind of a lot of other ways really kick-started basketball in China,” Doleva said. “If you’re a contributor, you can be nominated at any time. So that means there’s no waiting period.

“And what was determined by this individual is they actually were going to put together a group in China to nominate Yao as a contributor, so he would be eligible as early as next year.”

Such a move, however, could only come with Yao’s approval.

Doleva said he told the reporter, “You may want to check with Mr. Yao, because he may have a different feeling. And I think they’re still doing that.”

According to Hall bylaws, “A person is eligible for Enshrinement as a contributor at any time for significant contributions to the game of basketball. What constitutes a ‘significant contribution’ shall be determined by the BHOF, its Screening Committee(s) or Honors Committee(s).”

Because of his brief NBA career, Yao currently stands as a borderline candidate for induction as a player. While some also would point to his five seasons with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, the counter would be the collegiate careers of most domestic NBA candidates.

Yet should Yao enter as a contributor, it might make it easier to bypass the 7-foot-5 center when it comes to his eligibility as a player.

Then again, what Yao accomplished simply through his journey might just get him through both doors.

“At the end of the day,” Doleva said, “what they’re really voting on, is, ‘Is the accomplishments of this candidate worthy of Enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame.’ “

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

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