Friday, July 08, 2011

Yao calls it quits

By John McMullen

Philadelphia - Oft-injured big man Yao Ming has decided to call it quits after nine sometimes brilliant but more often than not injury-plagued years with the Houston Rockets.

After missing just two games out of 246 in his first three NBA seasons, Yao was forced to sit out of 250 of a possible 492 games dating back to 2005-06 campaign with an assortment of leg injuries. The Chinese star missed all but five contests over the past two seasons, including the entire 2009-10 season.

The 7-foot-6 center informed the Rockets, the league office, and NBA China of his decision to retire within the past 48 hours, according to YAHOO! Sports. He was set to become a free agent once the league's lockout ends after earning $93 million dollars over his career in South Texas.

An eight-time All-Star, Yao was one of the game's best big men when on the floor thanks to an amazing skill set for a man of his size. He possessed a deft touch around the basket and an extremely soft jumper although never developed into a truly dominant player thanks in large part to the injuries.

The top overall pick of the 2002 NBA draft, Yao will finish his NBA career with very good numbers, averaging 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots. However, any success on the floor was dwarfed in comparison to his impact on the league's explosion overseas.

The NBA and its players can look to Yao as the driving force behind all the revenue made while selling the game in China, home of the globe's fastest- growing economy.

On the floor, Yao's size both gave and took away. Obviously, the average human being doesn't stand 7-foot-6 and weigh 310 pounds. In basketball, size among the skilled is the holy grail -- the only thing you can't teach. But, like anything else, there are pros and cons to having a talented big man that looks down at the rest of us.

About 27 months ago, the Houston Rockets were battling the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals and Yao dominated, scoring 28 points, including eight in the final four minutes, to lift Houston to an impressive 100-92 win.

Of course the Lakers responded, but their path to what would be the first of back-to-back championships was made much easier when Yao was diagnosed with a sprained ankle after Game 3 of that set.

A follow-up test revealed a hairline fracture in the big man's left foot, and he was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. At the time, Yao downplayed the injury and a conservative treatment plan was drawn up by the Rockets, calling for him to cease all physical training and to use a walking boot in order to immobilize the foot and promote healing.

The prognosis had the foot healing over the summer but the fracture failed to respond and Yao finally underwent surgery. He never really made it back as the original injury caused another and then another as Yao favored one part of his leg for another.

Over recent years Yao amassed three different fractures of the left foot, a hairline crack of the right leg and had six-consecutive seasons interrupted or ended by some kind of injury.

"When you look at the course of Yao's career, stress fractures have been a part of his foot," Rockets team physician Walter Lowe told the Houston Chronicle back in December of last year. "To say he's not at a risk to continue to have stress fractures would be crazy. He is at a continued risk."

So in the end, Yao's body simply betrayed him and he became just the latest talented big man (think Bill Walton, Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie) to have his career cut short by a seemingly never ending series of leg injuries.

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