- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SHANGHAI (AP) - The NBA’s version of the Ming Dynasty is done. After helping pro basketball gain a foothold in the world’s most populous market, Chinese star Yao Ming has retired.

Yao made it official Wednesday, telling a packed news conference in his hometown that a series of foot and leg injuries forced him to end his playing career at the age of 30.

“I will formally end my career,” said Yao, the 7-fooot-6 center who became a household name in China before starting his NBA career with the Houston Rockets as the top draft pick in 2002.

Yao played eight seasons in the NBA, but missed 250 regular-season games over the past six years.

“Today is an important day for me and holds a special meaning for both my basketball career and my future,” Yao said in comments translated into English. “I had to leave the court since I suffered a stress fracture in my left foot for the third time at the end of last year. My past six months were an agonizing wait. I had been thinking (about my future) over and over. 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 will return to work with his former Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, with the possibility of becoming general manager. He plans to continue his philanthropic work with his Yao Foundation.

NBA Commissioner David Stern sent a message via video link.

“Yao Ming has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game,” Stern said in a statement. “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.”

Houston general manager Daryl Morey attended the farewell conference after getting permission from the NBA because the lockout prohibits contact with players.

He said he was tired from the long trip, but “I would be sorry if I wasn’t here.”

“It’s a big moment,” Morey said. “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 entered the conference room at a five-star hotel dressed in a dark suit, after the master of ceremonies led a count down to his arrival.

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 room.

Yao thanked his family, friends, coaches in China and in Houston and fellow competitors such as Shaquille O’Neal “for making me a better player.”

“I will be always with you,” Yao said. “Thank you.”

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