Only suspense left
How will Yao Ming announce his retirement? Much better than Bill Walton, anddone
There's only one question left in the spectacular, yet sad, career of Yao Ming.
How will the big man walk ... er limp ... away? Will he announce his retirement in an NBA-friendly mass press conference that will no doubt be broadcast around the world? Will he reveal it in an interview back in China, the homeland where he still seems most comfortable speaking, the place where he first brought up the R word in two separate sitdown interviews over the summer? Or will the final word trickle out from a confidant or two with Yao, the giant in the shadows?
With the news that Yao Ming's latest injury is much more serious than long reported (it turns out there's a stress fracture in his "sprained" ankle), with an orthopedic expert telling KTRK Ch. 13 that it's extremely unlikely that Yao will play another game this season (and no one exactly disputing that), the only real mystery is how long it will take for Yao to acknowledge the obvious: He's done. If the Rockets have shown anything during this latest two-year Yao injury ordeal (this will essentially be his second straight lost season), it's that the team desperately wants to keep hope of a Yao return alive.
No matter how much it defies logic.
And if Yao's shown anything in his career, it's a desire to please the powers that be, to be a good solider. This attitude with the Chinese National Team probably cost Yao an NBA season or three worth of games. So it's likely that Yao will toe the company line and dutifully talk about making yet another comeback, be as optimistic as can be — until his $17.68 million contract with the Rockets for this season expires.
Even if team owner Leslie Alexander seems to fully understand what this latest stress fracture means.
"This is very sad," Alexander told FOX 26 Sports in an on-air interview. "This is a very disappointing moment in the history of the Rockets organization, for our wonderful fans, for the city of Houston and for everybody in our organization. I feel terrible for Yao."
It's been obvious for a while now that Yao's 7-foot-6 frame just isn't built to withstand the rigors of an NBA season. The 30-year-old Yao realizes this more than anyone. There are reports that his own parents urged him to retire after he crashed to the floor in that fateful May 2009 playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the last basketball moments when he was really Yao.
Yao will have to leave the game sooner than he wanted to, but that doesn't diminish what a game changer he truly was. There were long stretches — not flashes, season after season — where Yao was clearly the second or third-best center in the entire league. He averaged more than 19 points and nine rebounds from the 2003-2004 NBA season to the 2008-09 season, never playing less than 48 games in that six-year stretch.
To compare Yao Ming to the chronically injured Bill Walton is an insult — to Yao. Walton was never the warrior Yao was, never stayed on the court in close to the same way, never actually produced the type of numbers that Yao did.
Walton missed two of his first nine NBA seasons entirely and played 35 games or less in three of the first seven seasons he made it on the court at all. He never averaged more than 18.9 points per game (Yao averaged more than 22 points three separate seasons, including a 25-point-per-game campaign).
Yao will not leave as a ghost of potential. We saw just how good he could be. He proved it on the court.
He doesn't have to show anything to anybody. Yao should be allowed to walk away in peace, right into his 7-month-year-old daughter's embrace.
Watch KTRK Ch. 13's report on Yao: