SHANGHAI — The NBA’s version of the Ming dynasty is done. After helping pro basketball gain a foothold in the world’s most populous market, Chinese star Yao Ming has retired.
The Houston Rockets center, who has become a household name in China and one of the stars of the NBA since his career as the top draft pick in 2002, confirmed weeks of speculation about his retirement by stating: “I will formally end my career.”
Yao played eight seasons in the NBA, but missed 250 regular-season games the past six years.
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 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 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”, NBA commissioner David Stern said.
He thanked his family, friends, coaches in China and in Houston and fellow competitors like Shaquille O’Neal “for making me a better player.”
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.”
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.