SHANGHAI, July 20 (Xinhua) -- "Gentle Giant" Yao Ming announced his retirement from basketball here on Wednesday.
"Today is an important day for me and holds a special meaning for both my basketball career and my future," said Yao, who has impressed the world with a formidable set of basketball skills, an engaging personality and the commitment to social responsibility..
"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. My past six months was an agonizing wait. I had been thinking (about my future) over and over.
"Today I would announce my personal decision to end my career as a basketball player and officially retire."
The 2.26-meter Shanghai native, who played for eight seasons in the NBA after being the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, has been troubled with a series of injuries.
Yao, who will turn 31 in September, averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds and has been named to the NBA All-star team eight times.
Apart from his on-court performance, Yao's achievements off the court made him a phenomenen more than a player.
The Chinese big guy wearing Rockets' 11 shirt single-handedly raised the NBA profile among one fifth of mankind, helping to promote exchange between the Chinese and American cultures.
NBA commissioner David Stern hailed Chinese Yao Ming as a "bridge between basketball fans" in the two countries, saying that "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," read Stern's message sent to Yao's farewell conference.
Thanks to Yao, NBA saw its popularity rocket up in China and throughout Asia.
Yao, who was not the first Chinese to play in the NBA but the most important for sure, proved that Chinese can well adapt to the high-pressured playing style and a different culture.
As Yao decided to retire from basketball, the Chinese international promised to remain part of the sport.
"I am off the basketball court but I will never be away from the sport," Yao said at Wednesday's conference.
"I will continue my basketball life with the Shanghai Sharks," added the sole owner of Shanghai Sharks. "When one door closes, another opens."
Yao took over the club in 2009 when it was in its lowest point, second to the last in the 18-team Chinese professional league and the number of spectators dropping as low as 200 at one time.
The Shanghai native bought the club all the same, despite the unanimous opposition from Yao's team of agents.
"My playing career started with this club. I hope I can do something for it. It is like no one would see their Alma Mater running down without doing anything," Yao once said.
But the role-changing may not be easy for Yao after he carved out a successful career at the NBA as the first draft pick in 2002 and an eight-time All-Star starter in nine seasons.
His pal and Shanghai team captain Liu Wei almost transferred elsewhere in a falling out with Yao following an unsuccessful contract negotiation.not long after Yao became the boss.
After many efforts, Yao eventually managed to solve the problem and keep his buddy in the team.
"I am learning to manage the club in new ways. I will bring joy to my hometown," Yao said.
Besides basketball, Yao has also dedicated himself to charity.
"I will keep devoting myself to social charity work," he said. "Yao Foundation, launched three years ago, is a project named after me. I promise here that it will keep going on."
Yao foundation has built 16 basketball courts last July and has donated millions of dollars to build schools around China.
"With a well-functioned Yao Foundation, I'll try to promote charity work not only in my circle of friends but also for the whole society, to help more people," said Yao.
The most popular basketball player in China has dedicated himself to awakening the public's awareness of social welfare and green issues.
When a deadly earthquake hit China's Sichuan Province, Yao donated two million yuan to victims and helped to raise money for quake relief efforts.
He acts as the Goodwill Ambassador of the international wildlife conservation organization "WildAid".
And he represents China's AIDS Prevention Campaign and the NBA's "Basketball Without Borders" and "Read to Achieve" programs.
Also, Yao promotes bone marrow donation and has offered to donate his own marrow if his sample is in need.
"I'm very thankful for what life has taught me...To live a better life is the best way to say thanks, I think," Yao added.