The Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming, China's most recognisable athlete, has retired from basketball.
The 7ft 6in Yao, an eight-time National Basketball Association All-Star, has been plagued by assorted injuries in recent years and missed the entire 2009-10 season after suffering a fractured bone in his left foot.
He played only five games for the Rockets last season before being ruled out on 10 November when he injured his ankle during the first quarter of Houston's 98-91 loss to the Washington Wizards.
The 30-year-old has triggered NBA-mania in China since being selected first overall by Houston in the 2002 draft. Yao had cast doubt on his return to the NBA last month when he admitted the possibility that he may not play again because of his ongoing injury problems.
"I don't know if I would join some champion team in the future," the China Daily quoted him as saying when asked about leaving a new-look Rockets team. "I don't even know if I can play again."
However, Yao said the prospect of playing in front of his baby daughter Amy gave him extra motivation to continue his career in the NBA. "I wish she could watch me play and even win a championship," he added. "Not only see through video highlights how her dad played. She is definitely a big motivation for me to continue, although my foot still needs lots of treatment.
"Walking or jogging is OK but I need to get 80 per cent of my strength back to play. I have got only about 30 per cent at most now."
Yao's five-year $76 million contract with the Rockets expired on 30 June as the NBA imposed a lockout. Yao has insisted in the past it would be hard to leave the Rockets. "I have spent the best 10 years of my life playing and living [in Houston]," said the player who has averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in his NBA career. "That makes it much harder to bid farewell."
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported Yao is expected to hold a news conference on 20 July to announce his future plans and that some Chinese fans felt it was time for the country's next generation of sports stars to emerge.Reuse content