- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SHANGHAI — A large scroll behind the player who brought China to the NBA and the NBA to China summed up the occasion.

“Ming xie,” it said in large Chinese characters that, loosely translated, mean “Yao Ming, thanks, the end.”

Yao, with teary eyes at times and dressed in an equally somber black suit, closed the book Wednesday on his eight-year career with the Houston Rockets, conceding that injuries finally got the best of him.

“My past six months were an agonizing wait. I had been thinking (about my future) over and over,” the 30-year-old Yao said in comments translated into English. “Today I am announcing a personal decision: ending my career as a basketball player and officially retire. But one door is closing and another one is opening.”

Yao said he would return to work with his former Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, with the possibility of becoming general manager. He already owns the club and wants to contribute more.

“My playing career started with the club. I hope I can do something for it,” Yao said.

Yao’s wife Ye Li and their 14-month-old daughter, Yao Qinlei, and Yao’s parents, Yao Zhiyuan and Fang Fengdi, were in the room. Qinlei was dressed in a red qipao, a traditional Chinese dress.

He later appeared with his family on the stage to the applause and cheers of the crowd.

“I will be always with you,” he said.

Yao entered the Grand Shanghai Ballroom after the master of ceremonies led a countdown to his arrival, months after his last game. He thanked a host of people — his family, former coaches, even players like Shaquille O’Neal — “for making me a better player.”

But the basketball world — from the sprawling NBA merchandise shops in Beijing and other Asian cities to the average American basketball fans who grew to love the 7-foot-6 center’s pleasant demeanor and desire to use his popularity to help others — maybe owe him a word of thanks.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was among those singing Yao’s praises Wednesday. Morey made the long trip from Houston, needing permission from the NBA to attend the formal farewell because the lockout prohibits contact with players.

Morey said 20 hours on planes was tiring but “I would be sorry if I wasn’t here.”

“It’s a big moment,” Morey added. “Yao had a sense of humor, a great attitude and sense of working together. I hope we can continue his culture in the NBA.”

Yao ranks second in Rockets history in blocks (920), sixth in total points (9,247) and sixth in total rebounds (4,494).

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