Houston Rockets' All-star center Yao Ming says he has been treated unfairly in an unprecedented attack by the country's official sports newspaper, China Sports Daily.
The newspaper of the General Administration of Sports on Monday hit out at Yao for "being privileged" and taking too much time off to recover from injury.
"No matter how lofty public welfare activities are, they can't be allowed to take first place in a player's life," the paper added, citing Yao's recent promotion of the Special Olympic Games in Shanghai. "No matter how sweet personal life is, it can't be compared to the exultation of capturing glory for one's nation."
"I know Chinese law protects people's right of speech but I feel this is unfair on me," Yao told China Daily in Beijing. "I entered the national team at the age of 18 and have competed for the national team for 10 years. I promise I have played with 100 per cent focus every year. The team are witnesses to my improvement and also my commitment."
The article said Yao is becoming a privileged player in the national team and always tries to escape from the team's training camp with a shoulder injury.
"I had a talk with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) about the time of return and also my shoulder injury, so I am not doing things at random," Yao said. "I cancelled my surgery because I don't want to let it hamper the team's preparation for the Beijing Olympics."
Yao said he doesn't care about the criticism:"I won't be bothered by the report, I know there is only one goal for me and them - the Olympics."
Fan reaction was firmly on the side of Yao.
"Yao has contributed so much to the national team, so we should not blame him," said one netizen on Sina.com.
The newspaper appears to have had a change of heart two days later, writing: "What Yao learned from the NBA is not only basketball skills but also the true meaning of professionalism, and this is why he can always report to the national team as soon as possible."
Yao will have to rest until September, meaning he is set to miss the Stankovic Cup and the team's European Tour in late August.
"Without Yao Ming, we are a different team and the warm-ups are not as valuable as I want," said head coach Jonas Kazlauskas, "For sure I want a full roster and I am expecting a lot from Yao, but what can I do?"
The All-star center joined China's national team training camp in Beijing on Tuesday and took part in a training session with teammates for the first time since coming back from the United States on June 22.
Source: China Daily