China’s Yao retires, ready to take ‘next step’

SHANGHAI, (Reuters) – China’s Yao Ming, who opened  up the world’s most populous country to the NBA and became an  Asian sporting icon, officially announced the end of his  basketball career yesterday.

Yao Ming

The towering 30-year-old had been plagued by foot and ankle  injuries towards the end of his eight seasons in the National  Basketball Association, playing just five games in the past two  seasons for the Houston Rockets.

Yao said he had been steeling himself for this day and  thanked his family and friends for helping him handle the  decision to stop playing.

“I am ending my athletic career and am retiring from  basketball,” Yao said through an interpreter at a plush Pudong  hotel on Wednesday. “Basketball has given me so much. It has led  me to a bigger and brighter stage to showcase my abilities.”

Yao, who had been widely expected to retire after telling  the Rockets he would not be returning, said persistent foot  injuries had forced him to retire.

“This process has been quite lengthy. I got a lot of support  from my family and friends in making this decision,” he added.

“When I started playing basketball, my parents told me: ‘Do  your best but one day things will have to come to a stop and you  have to think about the next step’.

“So I have been preparing for this day for 18 years,  although today comes a bit fast.”

In 2002, the seven foot, six inch (2.30m) Yao became the  first international player to be top pick in the NBA draft and  wasted no time making an impression with the Rockets with his  foot speed, positional play and silky shooting.

However, it was the way Yao so easily straddled East and  West that appealed to the NBA and its legion of fans, his  laconic, easy-going manner and quick wit making people warm to  him almost instantly.

‘EXTRAORDINARY
BRIDGE’

The NBA also got a foothold in China thanks to Yao and saw a  surge in television coverage and apparel sales in the country.

League Commissioner David Stern said Yao’s retirement was  the NBA’s loss.

“Since entering the league … 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.”

A household name in China even before he blazed a trail to  the United States, Yao is also known for his humanitarian work  and uses his image to raise awareness about issues close to his  heart.
He donated $2 million to survivors of the 2008 Sichuan  earthquake and created a foundation to rebuild schools in the  area.

As China’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the  Beijing Olympics he walked hand in hand with nine-year-old  earthquake survivor Lin Hao, which became one of the most  memorable images of the extravagant opening ceremony that  stamped China’s arrival on the world stage.

Yao said he would continue his philanthropic work as he  “opened the next door” in his life.

Fans were disappointed they would no longer be able to see  Yao in the NBA, but recognised his influence.

“I started playing basketball because of Yao Ming. I watched  him play in the NBA and then decided to learn basketball,”  15-year-old student Li Ao told CCTV. “Yao Ming’s achievements in  the NBA got more and more young and old fans involved in the  sport in China.”

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