Yao Ming played for NBA team Houston Rockets in the United States for eight years. When he retired in July 2011, NBA Commissioner David Stern said: “He was a bridge between Chinese and American basketball fans. He had a wonderful mixture of talent, dedication, humanitarian aspirations and a sense of humour.”
In his US career, he reached the NBA Play-offs with the Rockets four times. He was selected to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game eight times and the All-NBA Team five times. He would have made an even bigger impact on the game had he not missed around 250 regular-season matches due to foot and ankle injuries in his final six seasons. When he retired, he was the tallest player in the NBA at 2.29 metres (7ft 6ins).
He began playing for Shanghai Sharks as a teenager and remained with the team for five years, winning a Chinese Basketball Association championship in the final year. He was selected by the Rockets as the first overall pick in the 2002 draft, making him the first international player to be selected first overall without having previously played US college basketball. For the impact he made on American basketball, he was presented with the 2003 Laureus World Newcomer of the Year Award.
Yao Ming recovered from surgery after one of his all too regular foot injuries to play for the Chinese national team in the Beijing Olympics, one of the highlights of his career. He carried the Olympic flame into Tiananmen Square as part of the Olympic torch relay and then led the Chinese team at the Opening Ceremony. China reached the quarter-finals, with his average of 19 points a game the second-highest in the Olympics.
On July 20, 2011, aged 30, he announced his retirement from basketball because of injuries, including the third fracture of his left foot. His retirement produced more than 1.2 million comments on the leading Chinese social-networking site.
In 2008, he founded the Yao Ming Foundation in response to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, China. The foundation’s long-term mission is to provide educational opportunities for children in the United States and China. The foundation committed to rebuilding schools in the earthquake region. The new earthquake resistant schools provide top-level education for more than 1,400 students, many of whom will board.
In November 2013, following the Lushan earthquake, Yao Ming visited the RenYi School, in Tian Quan County, where the disaster happened, bringing basketball kit, sneakers and basketballs to the school.
To acknowledge his work to provide earthquake relief and educational opportunities for children, he was presented with the 2015 Laureus Spirit of Sport Award in the Awards Ceremony in Shanghai, where it was also announced that he had been elected a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy.