Yao Ming has managed to come back from devastating injuries before.
Every time, the All-star center has returned to his Houston Rockets to be the backbone of the NBA team.
But now, at the age of 30 and still recovering a serious foot injury, China's greatest basketball player doubts he will ever reach such lofty heights again.
"I have no idea if I can return the peak of my form," the seven-time All-star center told China Daily in an exclusive interview on Wednesday in Beijing.
"I have not been tested. I have not played competitive basketball since the injury even in the training. I cannot answer if I will return to my best."
Yao took a break from his rehabilitation in the US to come back to China last Friday to prepare for his charity basketball game in Beijing.
He admits he is racing against time to get fit for the new NBA season, which starts in October.
"The intensity of my training is going up gradually because at least I feel good about my injury," he said. "But talk about recovering my form is nothing but nonsense and will only be realized if I can get through the next season smoothly. Then, you will see results after that season."
Yao is still battling the foot injury he picked up during the third game of the Houston Rockets' Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Lakers on May 8, 2009. Initially, the injury, a stress fracture to his left foot, turned out to be more serious than previously feared and Rockets team physician Tom Clanton, at the time, claimed it could have ended the 2.26m center's career.
"I know I will retire one day. My career will end sooner or later. Even if I can play until I am 36, I have to accept that fact," he said.
"The only problem is that 30 is the golden time for an athlete, but for me it's sudden death and I find it hard to accept that."
Yao has been constantly battling leg and foot injuries and has missed major chunks of the previous NBA five seasons.
He missed 21 games in 2005-06 after having surgery on his infected left big toe, then broke a bone in his left foot with four games left in the regular season. He had to sit out for 32 games the next season after breaking his right leg and then 26 games for a stress fracture in his left foot during the 2007-08 season.
Ironically, the 2008-09 season was the most injury-free season for Yao since 2005-06, when he played in 80 regular-season games. Before the May 8 injury, he played in 77 regular season games.
Yao also doubted he will be able to play for China's national team again, although Chinese officials obviously want him to come back.
"It just depends on how well I recover from the foot injury. If my foot can survive the whole season and require no surgery in the summer, I will probably play for China again," he said.
"I think I can still help the Chinese team. But, realistically speaking, I am not the future of China basketball due to my age.
"China needs to have a new generation of players to take the responsibilities (from me)."
The national team is preparing for the World Championships next month in Turkey under American coach Bob Donewald Jr, who is also coach of the Shanghai Sharks, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) club which Yao owns.
"I have heard of several new players emerging from CBA. They have passion, talent and creativity. I hope they can keep those qualities."
Now the ultimate task for Yao is to win an NBA championship with the Rockets, who surprisingly posted a winning season with a 42-40 record without Yao.
"Even some of my close friends bet there was no way for the Rockets to win more than 30 regular season games last season. Just have a look at how much they won," he said.
"I have faith in the team."