YAO is the often the answer to the crossword clue
[Ming of the N.B.A.]

YAO crossword Ming NBA Rockets hall of fame china hoopster

YAO [___ Ming, 2016 Hall of Fame inductee], the [Tallest man to ever play in an NBA All-Star Game], stands 7’6″, making his a [Ming most look up to], even among other players.

In 2016, the [Shanghai-born N.B.A. star] became a [Rockets star in the Basketball Hall of fame].

Noteworthy clues include:

  • Chairman ___ (hoops nickname)
  • Valuable Ming
  • Toyota Center center
  • Owner of basketball’s Shanghai Sharks
  • At 17, he was 7’3″
  • Altitudinous Ming
  • Rocket from China
  • Big Chinese import?

Retired, but still very tall, Ming

Peter Wentz, Buzzfeed – Feb. 24, 2016

Thanks to Yao, MING isn’t just the [Dish dynasty] era of [1368 to 1644 in China], but also a [Center of Houston].

YAO may show up as [NBAer Ming], a clue that is doing its best to normalize (or familiarize solvers with) the word NBAER, crosswordese for a [Pro hoopster], like a [Cav or Mav] or [Hornet, e.g.].

And like ABA (the former American Basketball Association) and the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the NBA is often seen as a [Court org.]. The league’s teams also offer all kinds of other wonderful clues, like [Jazz grp.]

Another cagey way crosswords may refer to an [N.B.A. player] is as CAGER, dated slang which I always assumed referred to the metal fencing found around many basketball courts.

But it turns out that the original rules regarding balls that went out of bounds stated that possession simply went to whomever took possession of it first. To put a stop to the scenes of players spilling into the fans and wrestling for the ball, the court was enclosed in a cage. In fact, this meant that there was no out-of-bounds, and players could bounce the game off the wire mesh to their advantage.

According to this S.I. article, pro basketball teams in the northeast continued to compete in cages until 1925.

“A basketball cage circa 1910,” via upload to Quora.