Basketball courts have sprung up all over China as the Houston Rockets' Yao Ming got his countrymen excited about the game.
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."
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.