by Xinhua writers Wang Ruoyao, Xu Xiaoqing and Wu Xia
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 sadden numerous Chinese basketball fans and prompted them 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 2 p.m. at the Kerry Hotel in his hometown, Pudong in Shanghai.
"I had to leave the court when 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 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 modesty, and eulogized his sophisticated sports skills and dedication to philanthropy.
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."
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.
INSPIRES A GENERATION
On Weibo, the Chinese twitter-like microblogging site, about 1.2 million comments concerning Yao's retirement had been posted as of 5 p.m..
"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 in 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 the eastern Jiangsu Province.
In 2002, when Yao moved into the NBA, Zhang quit his job as a middle school teacher and began cramming for the fierce national postgraduate qualifying examination.
"At that time, I saw Yao's first game in the NBA on TV. He scored zero and appeared awkward. I felt we shared a similar situation that we both had to start from scratch and face much uncertainty," Zhang said, adding that he watched nearly every game in which Yao played.
However, two years after Zhang successfully obtained a master degree and became a news reporter as he'd dreamed, Yao chose to end his once-glorious professional basketball career.
"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 said he didn't want to play with his daughter while using crutches in the future," he said.
For Jin Yifeng, a 25-year-old fan of Yao in Beijing, what has inspired 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 quarterfinals for twice in the past decade.
Yao has undoubtedly become a national hero for a generation of young Chinese. However, unlike the war heroes worshipped by the older generation, Yao has been admired as an "ordinary person" who obtained success while also suffering frustrations, said Liu Shan, associate professor with College of Communication and Art of the Shanghai-based Tongji University.