SHANGHAI, July 20 (Xinhua) -- With 26 screws inserted in his left foot, the world-famous Chinese NBA player Yao Ming said farewell to the basketball courts at 30, an age when a man is just about to embrace the prime time of his career.
Yao's injury-forced retirement, which he officially announced Wednesday but had been revealed by media several days earlier, has prompted many Chinese basketball fans to question who will continue Yao's legend.
"Today I announce a personal decision: I end my career as a basketball player and officially retire," Yao said at a press conference held at the Kerry Hotel in his hometown, Pudong in Shanghai.
"I had to leave the court when I suffered 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 have been thinking (about my future) over and over," said the 2.26-meter Houston Rockets center, dressed in a dark suit.
Chinese expressed their regrets, support, and blessings to Yao, recalled his humor and pleasant modesty, and eulogized his sophisticated sports skills and dedication to philanthropy.
On Weibo, the Chinese twitter-like microblogging site, over 1.11 million comments concerning Yao's retirement had been posted as of 3 p.m., one hour after the press conference started.
"Now, an era has ended. No matter how great an athlete is, he will feel extremely helpless when confronted with injuries. I believe Yao will try his best to help boost the development of basketball in China after his retirement. Bless Yao Ming," Zhou Yafei, a Chinese professional swimmer, said on her Weibo post.
"I feel I've lost part of my life. He inspired me to conquer all difficulties in my life in the past years," said David Zhang, a die-hard fan of Yao in his 30's in Nanjing, capital city of eastern Jiangsu Province.
"It's really sad. Watching Yao Ming's game is the collective memory of me and my bros, even a generation of Chinese youth. But I totally understand him, as he once said he didn't want to play with his daughter while using crutches in the future," Zhang said.
For Jin Yifeng, a 25-year-old fan of Yao in Beijing, what touches him most about his idol is Yao's perseverance on the court and patriotism.
"He's more a warrior than an athlete. He sweated blood in the game in spite of endless injuries," Jin said.
"In addition, Yao was always ready to go back home when his country needed him," he said. Under Yao's leadership, the Chinese national basketball team managed to reach the Olympic quarter finals twice in the past decade.
Noticeably, many Chinese have shifted their attention to Yao's successor. Thousands of Weibo users asked "Who is the next Yao Ming?" or simply declared "I'm longing for the next Yao."
What Chinese people are anticipating may not just be an outstanding athlete, but also a "Chinese icon" that can represent a wholesome image of the emerging China, according to Meng Jian, a journalism professor with the Shanghai-based Fudan University.
Yao, who will turn 31 in September, played for eight seasons in the NBA after being the top overall pick in the 2002 draft. He averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds and has been named in the NBA All-star team eight times.