Basketball star Yao Ming announced his retirement on Wednesday after a
trailblazing career that made him China's best-known athlete and helped
spur the game's global growth.
The towering 2.29m star made the
announcement, which had been widely expected, during a press conference
in his home city of Shanghai after his last two seasons with the Houston
Rockets were dogged by injuries.
Yao, 30, said he had "waited and hoped that I could return" from a broken foot last year.
was a frustrating period and many thoughts crossed my mind. Today I
would like to announce my personal decision to formally retire as a
basketball player," he said.
Yao added he planned to focus on his
role as owner of the Shanghai Sharks, the team where he started his
professional career and which he bought in 2009.
All-Star, who has used his fame to confront Chinese taboos ranging from
the treatment of people with HIV to boycotting shark fin soup, said he
would also promote philanthropy in China.
In a choreographed news
conference, Yao stayed composed as he stood at a custom-made oversized
podium and recalled receiving his first ball at age four and donning his
father's old number at 16 for the Shanghai Sharks.
joined the Rockets as the first pick in the 2002 NBA draft amid
scepticism about whether the signature product of China's massive state
sports system would ever earn the affection of the league's fans.
he won over Americans and became an adored national icon in China
through his strong play — when fit — and his grace and poise. He was
not China's first player in the NBA, but he was certainly the
He exhibited that same grace during his retirement
announcement, switching to English to offer a "special thanks" to the
city of Houston.
"I would like to thank you for giving me a great nine-year career," he said.
years ago I came to Houston as a young, tall, skinny player and the
entire city and team changed me into a grown man, not only a basketball
Although his size was his strength, the rigours of
top-flight basketball proved too much for Yao's massive frame and his
career has been marked by lengthy absences from the court due to a
succession of mostly foot and leg injuries.
Nonetheless, he was China's first global sports superstar with a personal brand valued at more than $1 billion.
eight-time NBA all-star routinely tops Forbes' list of China's most
valuable celebrities and his international appeal has in the past led to
endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi, McDonald's and China Telecom.
the brand he has done the most to promote is the NBA. China has become
the league's biggest market outside the US since he began playing with
an estimated 300 million fans.
Fans had already begun mourning
his departure as reports of his planned retirement emerged in recent
weeks and on Wednesday Chinese web portals set up special pages for fans
to pay tribute.
"For Yao, it's closing a circle. For basketball fans, it's a pity," Jason Zhu, a 28-year-old Shanghai civil servant, said.
NBA commissioner David Stern praised Yao as a "transformational" player for the game.
entering the league as the number one pick in the 2002 draft, Yao Ming
has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalisation
of our game," he said in a statement.
"His dominant play and
endearing demeanour along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have
made him an international fan favourite and provided an extraordinary
bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China."