China’s iconic basketball centre Yao Ming has not announced his retirement, his management team said on Saturday, while refusing to deny numerous reports that the All Star was quitting the game.
‘I am not denying the reports … I’m just saying Yao Ming has not announced his retirement,’ Zhang Mingji, Yao’s agent in China, told AFP. ‘On July 20, we will hold a press conference in Shanghai to discuss the future plans of Yao Ming.’
Zhang refused to deny multiple reports in the United States on Friday that the 2.29m giant who became the NBA’s first superstar player from Asia will retire. The Houston Chronicle, ESPN and Sports Illustrated reported that Yao has decided against trying to make another comeback after injuries limited him to playing in only five games over the past two NBA seasons. The Chronicle reported that Yao told the club a month ago he was not coming back. Although China’s sports media was awash with reports of Yao’s retirement on Saturday, an official with the Chinese Basketball Association told AFP that the league had not been able to confirm that Yao was leaving the game.
With NBA players locked out by owners in a contract dispute, there was no immediate confirmation from the Rockets or the league regarding the status of Yao, whose ground-breaking career helped the global growth of basketball. The 30-year-old from Shanghai made his debut for the Rockets in 2002 after a stellar career for the Chinese national team and the Shanghai Sharks. While Yao was not the first Chinese player in the NBA, his engaging personality made him a favourite for sponsors seeking a way to attract interest in China and for NBA fans across Asia.
Beyond that, there was a formidable set of skills. Yao had a shooting touch for shots away from the basket, a quickness with the ball that enabled him to baffle even the best of rival centres, including NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who himself retired last month.
‘Ni hao, brother,’ O’Neal said in a video posted on his Twitter internet micro-blogging site. ‘You are one of the greatest players ever to come out of China, one of the greatest players period. I’m going to miss you bro. Enjoy retirement. Let’s go on vacation, bro me and you.’