Welcome home, Yao!

08:56, July 21, 2011      

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Yao Ming holds his daughter, whose Chinese name is Qinlei and English name Amy, as his wife Ye Li looks on during a news conference in Shanghai to announce his retirement.
(Shanghai Daily Photo)
CHINESE basketball star Yao Ming, long plagued by a series of injuries, announced his retirement as a player at a press conference in Shanghai yesterday.

The 2.29-meter-tall center thanked his family, teammates, coaches and competitors in an eight-minute speech marking the beginning of a new chapter in his life.

Yao said he had been thinking about ending his playing career after a second stress fracture in his left ankle in 2009 and the thought returned after a third fracture late last year. It took about two months for him to make the final decision, Yao said yesterday.

"Since then, like many friends who cared about me, I waited and hoped that I could return. It was also a frustrating period, many thoughts crossed my mind," Yao told reporters. "Today, I am ready to announce to everyone my decision: I will end my athletic career and formally retire."

But he added: "It's just a comma, not a period."

The 30-year-old said it was an important day for him with his parents, wife and daughter present.

"I should say it's too hard to part with the feeling when I run at full speed on the court," said Yao, who was given his first basketball by his father at the age of four. "It's a little too fast but thanks to my parents I knew this day would come since I was very young."

But Yao's affair with basketball will not end. As owner of the Shanghai Sharks he said he would now be able to spend more time and energy on the team and continue to contribute to the development of Chinese basketball.

"Even though I am leaving the basketball court, I will not leave the game," he said. "The Shanghai Sharks is how my professional life will continue. I am continuing to learn about managing and running the team and will do my best to bring honor and glory to my hometown and to Chinese basketball."

Talking about future plans, Yao said he would try to cultivate "people who play the game and not just playing machines. That's what I learnt most after I joined NBA."

Besides basketball, Yao will also continue his charity work with the Yao Foundation, and do things he enjoys in other fields, he said.

"Through meeting and working with people from different fields and professions, I can gain new knowledge and new understandings," Yao said.

Yao said he will be taking some courses to learn new things, including studying computing and finance at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The university's Tao Zhengsu, an official in charge of admissions, said Yao had been admitted to the university years ago when he was playing basketball in Shanghai.

However, his studies were suspended after he went to the United States. The university said they welcomed Yao's return and would tailor education plans for him.

Earlier in the day, Yao was granted a Magnolia Shanghai Sports Lifetime Achievement Award by Mayor Han Zheng. Yao is the first athlete to be granted the honor. Magnolia awards are usually for business people and celebrities.

Shanghai-born Yao set a milestone for Chinese basketball as the top overall pick in the 2002 US National Basketball Association and played eight seasons for the Houston Rockets.

David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said Yao was a player "who had a revolutionary influence on the association" and a key connection that linked the league to China.

"He's one of the best players of the Rockets and always a member of the family," said Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston side. "I believe he will enter the Hall of Fame of the NBA with his huge contribution to the game."

Source: Shanghai Daily
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