Houston Community News >> Yao May Miss Olympics

2/27/2008 BEIJING (China Daily) -- Yao Ming's season-ending injury has China thinking the once-unthinkable: The host nation's biggest, boldest and glitziest star might miss the Beijing Olympics.

News of the NBA All Star center's injured foot hit China heavily yesterday, highlighting Yao's role as a face of the Games and a symbol of the nation's quest for global competitiveness.

Yao, the world's most recognizable Chinese athlete, is far and away China's most popular sporting star.

While doctors say he should still make the Games, healing is expected to take until around June - perilously close to the Olympics' August 8 opening ceremony.

"When we heard about Yao's injury, we felt shocked and concerned just like all the basketball fans in China," Bai Ximin, manager of the national men's team, told a packed news conference in Beijing.

"We can totally understand how he feels right now and we hope he'll remain positive and optimistic while receiving treatment."

The 2.26-meter Yao, who was averaging 22 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season, was ruled out for the season on Tuesday with a stress fracture in his left foot, a huge blow to the surging Houston Rockets.

"It is not an injury we feel he can play with," Rockets doctor Tom Clanton said. "I've made the recommendation that it be treated surgically and we are working with him to get other opinions just to be certain that that is indeed what should be done."

If Yea chooses surgery, Clanton said, it would involve using screws to hold the bone together. The second option would be to treat it with a cast and crutches. Both options involve a healing time of about four months.

Clanton would not say when Yao could play again, but doesn't expect him to miss the Olympics.

That possibility is weighing heavily on him though. "If I cannot play in the Olympics for my country this time, it will be the biggest loss in my career to right now," Yao said.

He doesn't even want to think about how his absence in the Games would affect his fans in China.

"I don't want to try, actually, and I don't want to know either," he said.

Coach Rick Adelman and General Manager Daryl Morey told the team the bad news on Tuesday. Yao said it was a difficult day for him from the moment he walked into the building.

"When coach tells everybody I am out for the season, everybody is, like, quiet," he said. "That kind of quietness makes me feel kind of scared ... it was quiet like nobody was there and you just feel alone."

Chinese Basketball Association Deputy Director Hu Jiashi said officials discussed Yao's condition with China's Lithuanian-born coach Jonas Kazlauskas at a morning meeting. Contingency plans are being formulated in case he is ruled out of the Games.

Kazlauskas stressed the importance of "facing reality and having a positive attitude," Hu said, adding the coach had dual lineups and game plans and was prepared to send the team out on court with or without Yao.

Sixteen members of China's squad - minus Yao and 2.11-meter power forward Yi Jianlian of the Milwaukee Bucks - will gather on March 8 for training and play a three-game series against Memphis State.

Yao's backup will probably be former Dallas Mavericks center Wang Zhizhi, the first Chinese to make it in the NBA who now plays in the Chinese league.

China is not considered a major medal contender, but basketball is hugely popular and Yao's fame ensures the team's progress will be closely followed.

Yao's injuries elicit major concern too among Chinese sponsors and TV stations broadcasting Rockets games, since viewership falls dramatically when he is not playing.

(Contributed by China Daily)