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Yao set to retire, say reports

Zhang Mingji, the Chinese NBA star's agent, refuses to deny or confirm rumour, but says there will be a press conference on June 20.

BEIJING // Yao Ming, the first basketball superstar from Asia, is retiring from the game at age 30 because of chronic foot injuries, it was reported yesterday.

"I am not denying the reports. I'm just saying Yao Ming has not announced his retirement," said Zhang Mingji, Yao's agent. "On July 20, we will hold a press conference in Shanghai to discuss the future plans of Yao Ming."

Zhang refused to deny reports in the United States on Friday that the 7ft 6ins centre, one of the tallest players in NBA history, has given up on the game.

The Houston Chronicle and Sports Illustrated reported that Yao has decided against trying to make another comeback with the Houston Rockets after injuries limited him to five games over the past two NBA seasons.

The Chronicle reported that Yao told the club a month ago he was not coming back.

Although China's sports media were awash with reports of Yao's retirement yesterday, an official with the Chinese Basketball Association said that the league had not been able to confirm that Yao was leaving the game.

With NBA players locked out by owners in a contract dispute, there was no confirmation from the Rockets or the league regarding the status of Yao, whose groundbreaking career helped the global growth of basketball.

Yao, a native of Shanghai, made his debut for the Rockets in 2002 after a notable career with the Chinese national team and the Shanghai Sharks.

He was not the first Chinese to play in the NBA but he was the best, averaging 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in 486 games. Also, his engaging personality made him a favourite for sponsors seeking a way to attract interest in China and for NBA fans across Asia.

Thousands of fans reacted to the news on online forums. One wrote: "He's China's top athlete."

Other fans, like Liu Kan, a 28-year-old security guard in central Beijing, said Chinese fans should thank Yao for bringing a sense of pride to Chinese sports.

"His retirement will be a huge loss for China," Liu said. "The news still hasn't sunk in, so I'm in denial until he officially announces his retirement."

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