Yao Ming has informed the NBA he will retire after being stricken down with continued foot problems, according to a report. Yao played just 91 minutes of basketball over the past two seasons for the Houston Rockets after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot in Game 3 of the team's second-round playoffs series against the L.A. Lakers in May 2009.
It was in that series that Yao made himself one of the most sympathetic, easy to root for stars in the league.
Helped by Ron Artest, Yao reached the second round for the first time in his career in 2009, despite the absence of longtime co-star Tracy McGrady, who'd had season-ending microfracture surgery in February. With five minutes left in Game 1, there was a familiar sight: Yao wincing in pain. After colliding with Kobe Bryant, Yao hit the deck and held his knee. He limped off the floor and into the tunnel, accompanied by Rockets trainer Keith Jones.
The TNT cameras were back there, too.
The broadcast showed Jones emphatically directing Yao to the locker room to get checked out. Yao shakes his head and tries to walk back toward the court; after a brief argument, Yao bends over, stretches his knee and re-enters the STAPLES Center court (with some Lakers fans even applauding).
With Yao back on the court, the Rockets extended their lead and stole Game 1 on the road. At one point in the closing minutes, Yao scored eight straight points, an amazing triumph.
He went on the break his foot in Game 3, playing through it to finish that match but being ruled out for the season due to surgery. The Rockets stretched the series to seven before falling to the eventual champs; Yao never really came back after that. We're fortunate we got to watch such an amazing player during his prime, and even more fortunate that we could watch him in his greatest moment of triumph. That'll be my lasting memory of Yao.