Retirement isn’t end for Yao

By Jonathan Feigen

HOUSTON — With the door to the NBA that swung open nine years ago now closed on him, Yao Ming on Wednesday chose “a new life.”

Yao announced his retirement in a ceremony and news conference in Shanghai, citing the repeated injuries to his left foot and ankle.

“At the end of the last year, my left foot had a third fracture,” Yao said. “Today, I need to make a personal decision. I will stop my basketball career, and I will formally retire. Today, thinking back and thinking of the future, I have been very grateful. First of all, I need to be grateful to basketball. It has brought happiness to many people, including myself.

“Life is my guide. Just follow it, and it will open doors. Out of each door, there will be (a) beautiful world outside. Since I am retired, one door is closed. But a new life is waiting for me. I have left the basketball (court), but I will not leave basketball.”

He also will not leave Houston and sent a message to his “second hometown.”

“I’d like to thank you for giving me a great nine years in my career,” Yao said. “Nine years ago, I came to Houston as a young, tall, skinny player. An entire city and team changed me to a grown man, not only as a basketball player. I gained my first daughter over there. I feel I’m a Houstonian, and I will always be with you.”

While Yao moved on, the NBA could not quite let go.

NBA commissioner David Stern said he would soon offer Yao a place in the NBA, likely working with the league’s initiatives in China that have taken off since the Rockets made Yao the first pick of the 2002 NBA Draft.

“It’s sad,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. “He had such great potential. He fulfilled it, really, but we would have been a great team with him. It’s sad for him because I know he wants to play very badly. It’s sad for the Rockets.”

The day after Yao was drafted, Alexander had said that Yao would become the greatest sports star in the world. That seemed to be hyperbole at the time, driven by the excitement of landing a 7-foot-6 tower of potential. But Alexander’s expectation turned out to be prophetic.

“At his peak, he was that,” Alexander said. “If he had been healthy, and we would have won championships, he would have been even bigger. But he had the most name recognition in the world. He was a sports icon.”

Stern also flashed back to Yao’s first giant steps to the NBA and the night it all started. He knew then that Yao’s impact would stretch far beyond the court, even if he could not have predicted then the growth of the game in China that Yao would inspire.

“I remember the exhilaration of calling his name as the first pick … and contemplating that he would be a bridge between Chinese fans and American fans,” Stern said. “That all happened with a wonderful mixture of talent, dedication, humanitarian aspirations and a sense of humor.

“What a wonderful combination.”

Alexander said he would like Yao to continue to work with the Rockets but was not sure that would be Yao’s preference.

“Yao’s got so much going for him worldwide, I don’t think he’s the kind of person who would work with one team,” Alexander said. “He’s bigger than that.”

Leave a Reply