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How Yao Ming brought China onto the court

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Eugene Hoshiko/AP

(Read caption) NBA star Yao Ming pauses after he announced his retirement during a press conference in Shanghai, China, Wednesday. Yao has made it official, telling the packed news conference in his hometown that a series of injuries have forced him to retire from basketball.

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He made China cool for the US. He made basketball cool for China.

And now the Chinese basketball giant is retiring.

Yao Ming, the 7’6" center for the Houston Rockets basketball team, announced his retirement Wednesday.

"Today is an important day for me and holds a special meaning for both my basketball career and my future," he said in comments translated into English. "I will formally end my career."

Mr. Yao spent nine years playing for the Rockets, and in that time, he built up a loyal fan base in the US and solidified his spot as one of China's most well-known athletes.

He has become a symbol of growing China’s aspirations. Sports Illustrated ranked him in June as the fifth-highest paid non-US athlete in the world.

His face is plastered on billboards and magazines across China.

Says Sports Illustrated blogger Chris Mannix:

“But what Yao gave to the game can't be measured in wins and losses, points or rebounds. China was relatively uncharted territory for the NBA back in '02. Yao was the league's way in. Deals with CCTV, Shanghai TV, Beijing TV and others were quickly cut, exposing the NBA -- and its merchandise -- to hundreds of millions of people eager to embrace it. They signed sponsors, built courts -- some 800,000 are constructed or being constructed in rural villages -- and began playing preseason games in the country's major cities. Yao's face was everywhere in China and the NBA milked every possible marketing opportunity from it.

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