Leonard recalls short time with Pacers

By Jeff McDonald

It doesn’t take Kawhi Leonard long to recount the entirety of his career as an Indiana Pacer.

NBA commissioner David Stern announced him as the 15th pick in the June draft. Someone handed Leonard a Pacers ball cap as he walked up on stage at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. He shook the commissioner’s hand. He walked off stage.

“And then a media person in the back told me I had been traded,” Leonard said.

Leonard was the property of the Pacers for all of five minutes before being informed he’d been swapped to the Spurs in a pre-arranged deal for guard George Hill.

The Spurs rookie small forward faces his, ahem, former team for the first time tonight when the Pacers visit the ATT Center.

It’s not as if Leonard will be out for revenge against the team that traded him. He’s enjoying life as a starting member of a Spurs team boasting the Western Conference’s second-best record.

He recalls being neither stunned nor daunted by the trade.

“It still felt good,” Leonard said. “I got drafted that day. I was happy with whatever team wanted me.”

Acquired for his skills as a defender and rebounder, Leonard is averaging 8.3 points, an offensive output that has surprised coach Gregg Popovich. In March, the 6-foot-7 Leonard is contributing 11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.

“He’s been great all year long,” Tim Duncan said. “Even with Pop getting on him at times, he responds the right way. That’s big for a rook.

“The steals, the one-man fast breaks, all those things — they’re great for us. He adds a new dimension to our team.”

Nash missing Diaw: After obtaining a buyout from Charlotte a little more than a week ago, recently acquired forward Boris Diaw admits he talked to his old friend, Steve Nash, about the possibility of reuniting in Phoenix.

But Diaw wouldn’t go so far as to call it a recruiting pitch.

“He’s a friend, so I talk to him every now and then,” said Diaw, who played for Phoenix from 2005 to 2008. “We were talking about it, when people knew I was on the verge of being bought out by Charlotte. I got some interest from a few teams.”

According to a report in the New York Post, citing an unidentified source, Nash is upset Suns management didn’t do more to lure Diaw back to Phoenix.

Diaw, 29, instead signed with the Spurs, where has averaged 2.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, two assists and 1.4 steals in five games.

False Aussie advertising: Patrick Mills, the Australian point guard who joined the Spurs over the weekend, is sheepish to admit it.

He has indeed been to Outback Steakhouse. What’s more, he kind of liked it.

“I go there for the cheesy fries,” Mills said.

Yes, it’s a little like Yao Ming frequenting Panda Express. Or Eduardo Najera noshing at Taco Bell.

Mills is quick to point out to American diners that Outback probably isn’t the best representative of his home country’s cuisine.

“I might be the most Australian thing in there,” Mills said

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

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.”

Rockets center Yao calls it a career

Houston Chronicle

A sports career unlike any other is over.

Yao Ming, who became the face of China’s outreach to the West and the NBA’s growing popularity around the globe, has informed the Rockets and NBA he would retire, several individuals told of the decision confirmed on Friday.

Yao has played in just five games the past two season and has had five consecutive seasons ended or interrupted by bone injuries, most recently a stress fracture in his left leg suffered Nov. 10 in Washington. Yahoo.com reported that Yao officially informed the NBA of his decision in the past 48 hours.

An eight-time All Star, he averaged 19.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in his career. He had said in March and again in May that he had chosen to continue his rehabilitation to attempt a comeback. A free agent, he said he wanted to play for the Rockets. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander said they wanted Yao back.

“I’ll try continuing. I’ll try continuing,” Yao said. “A lot will depend on this foot.”

Asked if he believes he will play again, Yao said, “That’s the direction.”

Yao could not, however, play again with any confidence that he would avoid injuries.

“When you look at the course of Yao’s career, stress fractures have been a part of his foot,” Rockets team physician Walter Lowe said in December. “To say he’s not at a risk to continue to have stress fractures would be crazy. He is at a continued risk.”

Yao had said last off season in China that if he could not stay healthy that he would have to retire.

Limited to no more than 24 minutes per game, he played in just five games before the injury in Washington. Initially thought to be a relatively sprained ankle, a stress fracture was later found, ending Yao’s season and career.