Chinese great Yao Ming retires from basketball
Updated: 2011-07-20 14:45
Shanghai -- Yao Ming has made it official Wednesday, telling a packed news conference in his hometown that a series of foot and leg injuries have forced him to retire from basketball.
"I will formally end my career," said Yao, the 7-fooot-6 center who became a household name in China before starting his NBA career with the Houston Rockets as the top draft pick in 2002.
Yao played eight seasons in the NBA, but missed 250 regular-season games over the past six years.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey attended Yao's farewell conference Wednesday, and NBA Commissioner David Stern sent a message via video link. Morey had to get permission from the NBA to attend because the lockout prohibits contact with players.
"Yao Ming has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game," Stern said in a statement. "His dominant play and endearing demeanor along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have made him an international fan favorite and provided an extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China."
Yao said he will return to work with his former Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, with the possibility of becoming general manager. He plans to continue his philanthropic work with his Yao Foundation.
Yao entered the conference room at a five-star hotel dressed in a dark suit, after the master of ceremonies led a count down to his arrival.
Yao's wife, Ye Li, and their young daughter, Yao Qinlei, and Yao's parents were in the room. Qinlei was dressed in a red qipao, a traditional Chinese dress.
Despite news of Yao's pending retirement being out for several weeks, the actual announcement was treated with the pomp that Yao's appearances in China bring. Media were asked to sign up weeks in advance for the conference and show up two hours early to pass through airport-style security checks.
The Grand Shanghai Ballroom was crammed at the back with dozens of television cameras and black-suited security men outnumbered the hundreds of media. China Central Television planned to carry five continuous hours of Yao coverage beginning at 1 p.m. local time, including 90 minutes live from the media conference.
Yao's contract expired after last season, and the Rockets said they were interested in re-signing him if he came back healthy. Yao said in April in China that his professional future depended on his recovery from a stress fracture in his left ankle.
Selected to the NBA All-Star team eight times, Yao averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds. More importantly, his impact expanded the NBA's influence in Asia into lucrative merchandise sales and TV ratings.
After his rookie season, Yao helped the Rockets reach the playoffs in the next two seasons.
Yao Ming and his family members pose for a photo at the press conference in Shanghai, July 20, 2011. [Photo by Cui Meng/chinadaily.com.cn]
Yao played in 77 games in the 2008-09 season, when Houston reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
But Yao broke his left foot in a playoff game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and underwent complex surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2009-10 season. He lasted only five games at the start of the 2010-11 season, before breaking his left ankle. He had surgery in January, and was lost again for the season.
Yao had played six years with the Chinese national team before joining the Rockets, and was already a star in his home country. He carried the Olympic torch through Tiananmen Square and his country's flag during the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He also donated $2 million and set up a foundation to rebuild schools in the wake of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
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