Durant said during a promotional tour in China on Tuesday that it has been an honor to play against the 7-foot-6 Houston Rockets center. Yao is expected to announce at a news conference on July 20 that he's retiring from the NBA after nine seasons because of leg and foot injuries.
"Tough, man, tough to see a great player and a great competitor like Yao Ming leave the game after being injured a few years," Durant said during a stop in the city of Tianjin, east of Beijing. "As a player, you come into the league, the first thing somebody asks you is what you want to do when you get here, and a lot of players say, 'I want to dunk over Yao Ming.' So you can tell how much impact he has in the game.
"He comes in, he works every day and you can tell that he's never in trouble and he sets such a good example for the players coming into the league."
Asked if he thought Yao should have a place in the basketball Hall of Fame, Durant said the Chinese player deserves the honor because he has done a lot for the game.
"It was exciting to watch such a tall guy but that can shoot the basketball and put so much pressure on your defense by playing down low, and also his defense, too," Durant said. "He does so much for the game, and he does deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
"He's so dominant in the game, and he changed the game by him just running up and down the floor."
Yao boosted the popularity of the basketball league in China and throughout Asia, spiking merchandise sales and TV ratings for games after the Rockets made him the top overall pick in the 2002 draft.
The 30-year-old Yao has missed 250 regular-season games over the past six seasons because of injuries.