The tall guy

Basketball giant Yao Ming to retire

The tall guy

The end of the ‘Ming’ Dynasty? Yao Ming, China’s basketball icon, is rumoured to have decided to retire. According to a report from Yahoo Sports, then confirmed by several other media outlets, the 7-foot-6-inch centre is calling it quits after nine seasons on court.

Yao himself has yet to comment on the subject, saying only that he will hold a news conference on July 20 in Shanghai to announce his future plans.

Still, Chinese fans are already disgesting the news of the departure of their favourite local basketball star, who played with the Houston Rockets in the NBA.

“Yao Ming is the glorious pride of the Chinese people and deserves our respect. He proved that Chinese could jump after all,” one netizen wrote on Sina Weibo.

Another wrote: “If Big Yao retires, it is not only the end of an era, but also the end of my NBA-syndrome including those seasons when Yao played with the Rockets.”

Yao’s problem is that his competitive edge (all 7-foot-6-inches of it) has turned out to be something of a weakness too. In recent years he has struggled repeatedly with foot and ankle injuries, missing the entire 2009-2010 season. Last year he played only five games before undergoing surgery for a stress fracture of his left ankle.

Already, the debate has moved on to whether Yao deserves to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. A look at his career statistics shows some decent averages (19 points and 9.2 rebounds a game) rather than spectacular ones. Plus Yao never won a championship in the US – not even a play-off game, in fact.

No matter, say his fans. Yao will be remembered more for what he represented than how many points he scored, especially to millions of Chinese fans.

“The true measure of his contribution is on such a grand scale that it is fair to say that Yao has had the biggest global impact on the basketball scene since Michael Jordan,” gushed the China Daily in an editorial.

The NBA’s commercial team will probably agree. Yao’s ambassadorial role has been crucial to spreading the popularity of basketball in China, where the NBA says nearly 300 million people now play the game.

Others have benefitted too, including NBA stars like Jason Kidd and Shane Battier, who’ve become familiar enough faces to win contracts endorsing goods made by local companies, like Li Ning and PEAK.

“Yao Ming has had an extraordinary impact on the growth of basketball worldwide,” Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consultancy SportsCorp, told the Associated Press. “Consider that he only played, effectively, five seasons. But he opened up the most populated nation in the world, at a time when it was going through its greatest growth, in a way that will never be duplicated.”

China Youth Daily went a step further: Yao’s biggest contribution is to have bridged the cultural divide between China and the US, it thought. “Once you start talking about Yao Ming it’s like the two sides have found a common subject. Distance was quickly narrowed and the gap is dissolved,” says the newspaper.

So what’s next for Yao? According to a survey on Sina Weibo, 49% of netizens think the basketball star should start his own sportswear brand like Olympic gymnast Li Ning, 25% say he should coach the national basketball team and 18% advise him to stay home and take care of his family.

The rest say it has to be either movies or politics. Either way, he’ll certainly stand out from the crowd.

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