Since returning to his hometown of Shanghai last month, Yao Ming has been in the news for everything from suing a China-based sportswear company for illegally using his name, to speaking out against the consumption of shark-fin soup, and of course, his recovery from a fractured right ankle.
Speaking on the latter yesterday to reporters, Yao spoke more forwardly than ever about his NBA comeback chances, telling reporters that if he can’t get healthy this summer, he’ll hang it up for good.
Speaking to the Peninsula Morning News, Yao stated “It all depends on the ankle. If I can get it healthy, then I’ll retire in two years. Otherwise, it’ll be this summer.”
Yao played five games with the Houston Rockets last year before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his right ankle. With his contract with the Rockets set to expire at the end of the month, Yao will hit free-agency this summer for the first time in his nine year career.
Though Yao has missed 159 out of 164 games the last two season, the former 2002 number one overall pick has stated his desire to come back for another go. Citing the birth of his daughter, who is with him in China for the first time in her young life, Yao has specifically expressed his determination to play in front his daughter so that she’ll have memories of her father in the NBA.
“It’s a very enticing motivation, an extremely enticing motivation,” said Yao.
But, in recent weeks, Yao has been less and less optimistic about a possible return. Answering questions from China Daily while doing charity work in Gansu province last Friday, Yao expressed doubt over his troubled ankle’s ability to heal well enough for him to extend his career.
“My left foot fracture is the result of a previous injury and relapse last December,” said Yao. ”Due to the set back, I am being conservative about it healing. Actually, I do not dare say I am optimistic right now.”
“I am recovering from the injury step by step. Right now the situation is just as it was at the same period last year when I battled against the last injury. Frankly, I can’t be too optimistic. I just remain patient.”
Last week, Yao admitted his ankle was far from where it needed to be if he were to play competitively again.
“Walking or jogging is OK for me now, but I need to get 80 percent of my strength back to play I have got only about 30 percent at most now. I also need exhibition games to assist my recovery, not only working out alone.”
Speculation about a speedy comeback from Yao started when the Chinese Basketball Association decided to include the 30 year-old’s name on its summer National Team training camp roster last April. China is preparing to host the 2011 FIBA Asia World Championships, where they aim to win gold and qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Standing in their way, however, will likely be Iran, the team who humiliated China two years ago in the same tournament by dominating the Chinese in the finals. With Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi expected to bolster a championship roster led by current Memphis Grizzlies center, Hamed Haddadi, the pressure will be on the host nation to put forth their best players in an attempt to prevent the Iranians from repeating. With nobody even close to capable of limiting Haddadi, who torched China in the finals with his rebounding and high-post passing, China is quietly hoping that Yao will be able to return by September in time for the tournament. But, unless something extraordinary happens in Yao’s recovery, it looks as if the Chinese will be without their star center.