Yao Ming — the former No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Rockets who for several years was the best center in the game and who helped globalize the NBA by making it the most popular American sport in China — made his retirement official in a ceremony Wednesday in China.
Ongoing foot problems — his left foot was fractured three times and never healed properly — forced him into this decision. NBA TV broadcast Yao’s retirement ceremony from China back to the United States. He started by speaking in Chinese (the broadcast had a translator).
“”Today I need to make a personal decision as a basketball player. I will stop my basketball career and I will formally retire.”
He then went on to thank a number of people and to thank the game of basketball itself for all it had given him. He then switched to English to give a message to his “friends overseas,” particularly Rockets fans.
“I would like to thank you for giving me a great nine years during my NBA career. Nine years ago I come to Houston as a young, tall, skinny player. The entire city and team changed me into a grown man. Not only a basketball player. And also I had my first daughter over there. I feel like a Houstonian and I will always be with you.”
Yao said that this “would be a comma, not a period” and that he would still be involved in basketball. That starts by working with the Shanghai Sharks, the Chinese team he played with before coming to the NBA.
Someday, don’t be shocked if big men from around the world flock to talk to him as a guru, the way they do now with another former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon. Yao has the mind to be a great basketball coach. He was a great basketball player, just one whose body betrayed him before we got to see enough of him.
Yao Ming is expected to officially announce his retirement Wednesday at a press conference in China. (And good on the NBA league office for clearing Rocket officials to go to the event in spite of the lockout).
As you read this, Kobe Bryant is in China, the latest of his annual trips to China to promote the game, the NBA, his brand and Nike. Kobe is the biggest American-born player in China, leading the way in jersey and shoe sales for years. (He also has his own Web site for China and his own charitable foundation for the country.)
“In terms of opening up doors for Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA, or for the youth here in China to believe that it’s possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player, all that started from Yao,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Bryant said.
“The movement that started in the NBA of the influx of European players coming to the NBA was started by Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and those guys.
“Even that movement didn’t have the impact and magnitude that Yao Ming has had. And on top of that, he’s just a heck of a basketball player to boot,” Bryant, who is in China on a promotional tour, added.