Follow FIBA on Facebook

03 - 15
August 2021
Yao vs Haddadi: Who is the best center ever in Asia?
to read

Yao vs Haddadi: Who is the best center ever in Asia?

ASIA - The rise of the top two basketball nations in Asia can be traced back to two figures: Yao Ming of China and Hamed Haddadi of Iran. Both were, literally and figuratively, the biggest figures in revolutionizing basketball in their respective countries and continue to do so up to this day. Since they both played the same position and were among the best that FIBA Asia has ever seen, it is inevitable for fans to ask among themselves who the best center in Asia is.

Background Check

By the start of the new millennium, Yao Ming was already the face of Chinese basketball. After just turning 20 years old, Yao starred for China at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His rise to stardom shot up at a frantic pace from there onwards. He won his first FIBA Asia Cup in 2001, his first Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) title in 2002, became the first overall draft pick in the 2002 NBA Draft for the Houston Rockets, before having a breakout performance at the FIBA World Cup 2002. Since then, the 2.29M (7’6”) center continued to lay his claim as one of the best players in the world.


Yao has retired from playing since 2011, but continues a role impacting the basketball world as the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association and was also enshrined to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

View this post on Instagram

Happy to launch my official Instagram.

A post shared by Yao Ming (@yao) on


The success of Yao Ming drew interest of the basketball world to the Asian region, giving a chance for other Asian talents to get worldwide exposure. One of those players was Hamed Haddadi. The 2.18M (7’2”) big man played in his first FIBA Asia Cup in 2005 and continued to roll on at FIBA Asia Cup 2007 and the 2008 Beijing Olympics before signing with the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA. Haddadi has consistently been a star for the Iran national team since, as well as playing premier roles in the CBA and the local Iran Superleague. After over a decade of playing basketball at the highest level, Haddadi is still going strong at 33-years-old playing professionally in Lebanon.

View this post on Instagram

Game time

A post shared by @ hamedhaddadi on


FIBA Asia Cup: Individual Success

Both Yao and Haddadi were their country's main option from their very first game in the FIBA Asia Cup. They were either the first or second leading scorer on the team in each FIBA Asia Cup, while also impacting the game on the boards and on defense.


Yao Ming

Hamed Haddadi

FIBA Asia Cup Appearances



FIBA Asia Cup MVPs



Total Games Played



Total Points Scored



Points Per Game




The dominance of Yao in the FIBA Asia Cup is evident and clear with him winning an MVP in each appearance. He even led the tournament in scoring with 22.9 points per game in 2003.

Haddadi gets a slight edge here for his longevity by competing in over a decade of FIBA Asia Cup play and maintaining his excellence with an MVP award in the recent 2017 edition.

FIBA Asia Cup: Team Success

Iran and China are two of the most triumphant teams in the FIBA Asia Cup. Both Yao and Haddadi are at the center - pun intended - of these successful runs.


Yao Ming

Hamed Haddadi

FIBA Asia Cup Titles



Games Won



Games Played



Win Percentage



Both players have the same amount of titles and an outstanding win percentage with their teams. However, it’s hard to not acknowledge how ridiculous it was for China with Yao in the middle to go through 22 games in FIBA Asia Cup play without a loss. If that’s not definite proof of the team’s dominance, you can also point to how China beat all of their opponents by double-digits in every game. During that 6-year span, Yao's team won with an average of 34.7 points per game in games that he played.

Ever since Yao retired, Haddadi and Iran have taken over the mantle as the most winningest team in Asia. Over the past 6 FIBA Asia Cup tournaments, Iran has 3 championships, one runner-up finish, and another finish at third place.

Iran with Haddadi managing to lose only 5 games in the past decade of FIBA Asia Cups is undeniably an impressive feat, but Yao’s undefeated run with China is just on another level.

Verdict: Asia’s best center is?

It’s remarkable how Haddadi has maintained his high level of success in the FIBA Asia Cup for such a long time, not only individually but by leading Iran as a team. How he’s managed to win FIBA Asia Cup MVP awards 10 years apart is the biggest piece of evidence for how great of a player he is. As impressive as it is to have seen Haddadi play in the FIBA Asia Cup 7 times already, it's not out of the picture for him to make a 7th appearance at the FIBA Asia  Cup 2021 either.

On the other hand, Yao Ming went undefeated in crushing fashion and also won the title and the MVP trophy in each edition of the tournament. In the three FIBA Asia Cups that Yao played with China, the Asian powerhouse did not lose a single game in all of their 24 contests. Though his reign as FIBA Asia Cup’s best player was shorter than that of Haddadi, you could make an argument that his domination was more superior during that stretch.

It’s just a shame that the fans didn’t have a chance to witness the two towers go up against each other in their prime at the FIBA Asia Cup. Their only duel was in 2005 when Haddadi was only 20 years old and Yao was already a budding star in the NBA at 25. With both having outstanding runs in the FIBA Asia Cup, who do you think is the best Center in Asia?