NBA star bids farewell to a career that dominated the courts, Lei Lei and Sun Xiaochen report in Shanghai.
It's final. In a news conference held in Shanghai and broadcast live in China on Wednesday, Yao Ming announced his retirement from basketball, staging an emotional end to a glorious career.
Accompanied by his wife Ye Li, his 14-month-old daughter, Yao Qinlei, and his parents, Yao read his announcement calmly at a farewell news conference.
"Today is an important day for me and has a special meaning for both my basketball career and my future," Yao told a ballroom packed with more than 300 journalists from some 200 domestic and international media organizations.
"I had to leave the court since I suffered a stress fracture in my left foot for the third time at the end of last year. The past six months were an agonizing wait. I had been thinking about my future over and over. Today I am announcing a personal decision: ending my career as a basketball player and officially retiring."
For China's most successful basketball player, the retirement is not a conclusion, but a new start. "I used to say that if my career as a professional basketball player ends one day, I hope it's just a comma, not a full stop, in my life," Yao said.
Yao, who turns 31 in September, will continue to be involved in basketball with the Shanghai Sharks.
"I'm still Yao Ming and there are still many things that I wish to accomplish."
The Houston Rockets center is a household name in China since becoming the top NBA draft pick in 2002. He played for the Rockets for nine seasons, but missed 250 regular-season games over the past six years due to injury. A stress fracture in his left ankle cut short his career.
Gratitude was the theme of the farewell event with guests from the Chinese Basketball Association, the Shanghai Sports Bureau and the NBA present. China Central Television carried five hours of live broadcast from 1 pm.
"I think life is like a guide, if you follow it wholeheartedly, it will open one door after another for you. The retirement closes a door for me and a new door opens. A new life is waiting for me."
NBA Commissioner David Stern sent his best wishes to Yao via a video.
"Since entering the league as the No 1 pick in the 2002 draft, Yao Ming has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game. His dominant play and endearing demeanor along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have made him an international fan favorite and provided an extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China.
"I very much want to congratulate Yao on his distinguished playing career and wish him success as he transitions into the next phase of his life. Importantly, we look forward to working with Yao in continuing the growth of the game of basketball in China, a growth to which he has already contributed so much."
Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets general manager, admitted that Yao's departure leaves a huge hole in the organization.
"He's very difficult for me to replace. Actually it's impossible," Morey told China Daily.
"Even though Yao won't be on court anymore, the culture he brought, the hard work, humbleness and the sense of humor, being a great team member, that will be something I try to preserve.
"He is a great person who accomplished unbelievable things. The next chapter in his life will be more impressive than his first chapter on the basketball court because of who he is as a person."
Yao didn't talk much about his plans, but said he would continue his charity work and involvement in basketball.
"Even though I am leaving the basketball court, I will not leave the game."
"I will continue my philanthropic work. The Yao Foundation has been established for three years. I will work with the foundation to influence more people to join philanthropic activities."
He is also expected to manage the Shanghai Sharks, the Chinese Basketball Association team he bought in 2009.
"The Shanghai Sharks is how my professional life will continue. I am continuing to learn about managing and running the team."