Yao Ming will see the only NBA team he played for ensure no other Houston Rockets’ player will wear his number. During a February ceremony placed during the Chinese new year, the Rockets will retire Ming’s No. 11 jersey, owner Leslie Alexander said on Friday.
This will continue what’s been an important stretch for Yao, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this month. He has been retired from the game for barely five years, but the 7-6 center represented unprecedented NBA popularity in China, and the former No. 1 overall pick became a global icon during his nine-year career with the Rockets.
Still just 36, Yao will be honored on February 2. He joins four other Rockets who have seen the 46-year-old franchise retire their numbers – Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy and Clyde Drexler.
While Yao struggled with injuries during the latter part of his career, he helped the Rockets be the preferred team of the world’s most populated country, growing the game exponentially in an area that had never seen a player of his stature.
The 2002 No. 1 overall pick finished as an eight-time All-Star, and considering he was voted in during his final 2010-2011 season when he played in just five games, it’s a good bet that he would have pushed that to nine had he been able to play in any contests in 2009-2010 as opposed to sitting out the season with a severe foot injury.
Yao averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for the Rockets, becoming a six-time All-NBA player – making four appearances on the third team and two on the league’s second team. The Rockets could not overcome the Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference during Yao’s run but did advance to the conference semifinals in 2008-2009 during Yao’s final healthy campaign.