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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: July 25, 2011 NO. 30 JULY 28, 2011
Hanging Up His Sneakers
Chinese basketball superstar retires but his legacy will live on

FAREWELL: Yao Ming announces his retirement at a press conference in Shanghai on July 20 (XINHUA)

It was a sad day for basketball fans. On July 20, China's basketball icon Yao Ming held a news conference in his hometown Shanghai, announcing his retirement from the sport as result of career-ending injuries.

"I am going to end my career as a basketball player and officially retire," Yao said.

Yao played with the Houston Rockets in NBA for nine seasons. The latter half of his career saw Yao plagued by foot and ankle injuries. Over his past six seasons in the NBA he missed 250 regular-season games, and he played in only five games over the past two seasons before sustaining a stress fracture in his left ankle.

"Yao helped globalize the NBA and his retirement is a loss to the game as a whole," said Yang Yi, a sports commentator in China.

Zhang Weiping, who has decades of experience reporting and broadcasting NBA events in China, also expressed his regret at Yao's retirement.

"He is a landmark figure in Chinese basketball history, with a huge impact both on and off the court. It's a pity that he couldn't continue," Zhang said during a TV interview.


Yao began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), China's top league. He joined the junior team of the CBA's Shanghai Sharks at the age of 13. After playing with the junior team for four years, Yao joined the senior team of the Sharks in 1997.

Yao played 122 games with the Sharks and averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds. He led his team to the finals of the CBA three times and finally helped the Sharks win their first CBA championship in 2002.

After five stellar seasons with the Sharks, Yao made his NBA debut with the Houston Rockets on June 27, 2002. He was the No.1 overall pick in the NBA draft.

Although Yao did not see much playing time early in his career, he still finished his rookie season on a high note. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.74 blocks per game in 82 games in his first season.

Although he did not win the Rookie of the Year award in 2002, the 2.26-meter center was selected to play in the All-Rookie, All-Star team. He was the only rookie to lead his team in both rebounds and blocks, and the only rookie to rank in the top 20 in three statistical categories.

Yao played consistently throughout his first three years only missing two games, but eventually the stress of the game and his enormous frame took its toll and he was plagued by injuries. He injured his left toe in 2005. After a successful surgery, he came back strongly in the second half of the season and averaged 25.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in 25 games, while shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 87.8 percent from the foul line.

Yao's career peaked in the 2006-07 season, when he averaged 25 points per game.

But calamity struck on December 23, 2006, when Yao's right knee was broken while attempting to block a shot. This marked the beginning of a series of injuries that forced Yao away from the court and onto the sidelines. He missed the whole 2009-10 season after surgery to repair his broken left foot.

Last season the Rockets limited Yao's appearances to 24 minutes per game, and made sure he didn't play in back-to-back games. Even so, Yao was hurt in his fifth game of the season against the Washington Wizards on November 10 last year. First diagnosed as a mild ankle sprain, the injury was later said to be an ankle bone bruise.

With his five-year contract with the Rockets, valued at $76 million, set to expire on June 30, and with the threat of a lockout also looming, the Chinese superstar came to a final decision: ending his professional basketball career at the age of 30.

Yao played for almost eight seasons with the Rockets and took them to great heights. He led the Rockets into the playoffs five times during his career. In 2009, he led the team to the Western Conference semifinals, the team's best performance in the past 10 years.

Yao finished his NBA career as an eight time All-Star and in five seasons he was voted onto the league's second or third All-NBA team. His career is seen as an example by many international players. Although he was not the first Chinese player to enter the NBA, he is certainly the most successful.

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