BEIJING, July 21 (Xinhua) -- Chinese mainstream newspapers on Thursday gave wide coverage to Yao Ming's retirement, recalling Yao's professional career, reviewing his Wednesday press conference, and on top of that, praising Yao for improving the national image and soft power.
In a commentary titled "Great times and Chinese dream" carried on Thursday by the People's Daily, Yao Ming is commended as having projected a wholesome image of today's China and boosted China's soft power.
Yao's humor, modesty and tolerance shown in the game, has impressed the world and helped resolve misunderstanding across different cultures, says the commentary.
"Yao uses basketball, an 'international language' to introduce China to the outside world, and his cultural influence matters far greater than victory on the basketball courts."
The Xinhua Daily Telegraph, a newspaper run by Xinhua News Agency, in a rare case, put Yao's story and a picture of him center of Thursday's front-page, pushing political news to the side.
In a commentary, written by staff reporter Xu Jicheng who was also the moderator of Yao's Wednesday conference, the paper praises Yao for having won the dignity and respect for China's young generations, and for helping open up China.
Xu writes, even though China and the west have opened their doors to each other, there are still many hurdles and obstacles in between, but Yao's achievements can help overcome them and through him, the western world can see the true Chinese faces.
By serving as a bridge of communication, Yao has helped to allay misconceptions, continues Xu.
Xu says that Yao Ming has, with his own efforts, interpreted the slogan of Beijing Olympic Games, "One World, One Dream," an ideal that cannot be realized in a world of mutual denials and finger-pointing.
"Yao has brought the Chinese younger generations a renewed confidence." Xu adds, some people went to the United States and Europe before Yao but returned with blind worship of the west, loosing their own cultural identity. However, Yao has kept asserting that he is a "Shanghai boy," and Chinese, while enjoying and learning from the west.
The Thursday China Youth Daily quotes Jin Shan, an expert on sports studies with Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, as saying Yao Ming is more a cultural ambassador of China, a window to display China to the outside world.
Jin says, competition sports in China are overwhelmed by worship of gold medals, however, Yao has become one of the most successful players in China without any Olympic Games or other international games championship titles.
"Yao, who has impressed the world by his humor, perseverance and sense of responsibility, has helped many foreigners to better understand China and the Chinese people," the former director of the Chinese Basketball Administrative Center (CBAC) Li Yuanwei was quoted as saying by the China Youth Daily.
"Yao is undoubtedly a basketball legend in China with his international reputation far beyond the sports world and has played such a big role in improving the image of China in the world," Li said.
Yao, who will turn 31 this September, officially announced his retirement from professional basketball on Wednesday.
Yao, 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.
Yao made the cover story of the Asian Edition of Time Magazine twice, and was selected by the magazine as one of its "100 most influential people in the world today" twice.