Towering Chinese basketball star Yao Ming has announced his decision to retire from the National Basketball Association after a series of injuries prevented him from continuing to compete. Yao Ming, however, says he is not giving up basketball and will continue to work for his former Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, as well as with his charity group The Yao Foundation.
At 2.3 meters, Yao Ming’s height was one of his greatest assets. This helped him rise through the ranks of the Chinese national sports system all the way to the NBA. But his massive stature was also the cause of the wear and tear on his leg and ankle that forced him into retirement.
Yao Ming’s career in photos
Plagued by wounds
Yao Ming spent his entire eight-year NBA career playing for the Houston Rockets, who made him their first draft pick in 2002. Injuries forced him to miss hundreds of games during that span. In his final season, he only played five games after sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot for the third time.
Speaking at a farewell press conference on Wednesday which was broadcast live on Chinese national television, Yao said the past six months had been agonizing as he reflected on his decision.
“Today I have retired, but as one door closes, another gradually opens, and a whole new life awaits me outside that door,” Yao said. “Although I have retired from the field, I will never quit basketball. Shanghai Oriental Sharks Basketball Club will be an extension of my basketball career. I lead the club with the knowledge I have acquired over the years .”
NBA All Star
In a video message shown during the press conference, NBA commissioner David Stern called Yao Ming a “transformational player,” adding that he was a testament to the globalization of basketball.
Yao Ming’s success not only made him an international superstar, but also helped expand the NBA’s fan base in China and other parts of Asia.
Brook Larmer, author of Operation Yao Ming: China’s sports empire, corporate America and the creation of an NBA superstar“ said the Chinese basketball star was not only a bridge for sports between the United States and China, but also for business and diplomacy.
“It’s a slightly bittersweet ending to a truly amazing journey and I think we need to remember how unusual it was when it happened. [when Yao Ming made it into the NBA]”, Larmer said. “Yao Ming was born at the very beginning of China’s great expansion in 1980. Really, his rise paralleled China’s own rise in the world and certainly from the beginning he was considered a more than just a basketball player.”
Share the love
Outpourings of support for Yao Ming came quickly online and at his farewell press conference.
In a post on social media site Weibo, a fan of Yao Ming said the player has always been an influence on his life and childhood. Another remarked that Yao carried the pride of the Chinese people with him and remarked that he would be a hero even in retirement.
In comments earlier this week, NBA star Kobe Bryant praised Yao for inspiring young Chinese basketball players.
“In terms of opening doors or getting Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA or getting young people here in China to believe that it’s possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player – it all started with Yao,” Bryant said.
Larmer says Chinese athletes such as Yao Ming and tennis star Li Na, who recently became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament, have managed to be pioneers who broke free from the rigid mold of the Chinese national sports system. But that doesn’t mean others will follow in their footsteps.
“I don’t think in basketball, though, there will be many other Yao Mings,” Larmer said. “I think he’s unique and probably the last, one and only player of his kind that will ever come out of China.”
China’s state-run sports system still focuses on recruiting exceptionally tall children to undergo years of tightly regulated training. Despite the immense interest in basketball in China, Larmer says that until the state system changes, it’s unlikely other players will be able to replicate Yao Ming’s success in the NBA.