Yao Ming caused a familiar stir with comments in China on Tuesday, saying he might have to consider retiring if his surgically repaired and restructured left foot does not fully recover.
“If the foot injury does not heal next season,” Yao said in an interview with Chinese state media, “I might choose to call it quits.”
Though the comment created the customary ripples of reaction from Beijing to the corner of LaBranch and Polk, the Rockets were unconcerned with Yao’s seeming uncertainty about his condition, arguing that Yao had already recovered.
Yao returned to the court in late May and has been going through extensive, full-contact workouts at Toyota Center.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on three separate occasions last week that Yao is on pace to start training camp on time, adding that Yao expects to play preseason games in China, a position he reiterated on Tuesday following Yao’s comments.
“Yao is on schedule to be available the first day of training camp,” Morey said on Tuesday. He’s continued to make positive strides in his rehab work and all medical reports so far have been positive. He’s been working consistently four to five days a week, and we expect him to be there when we open camp on September 25th.”
Morey later issued a similar statement: “Yao Ming is working diligently on his return and has consistently received positive feedback at each of his scheduled medical checkups. He is currently participating in on-court basketball workouts and we continue to expect him to be ready for the start of training camp which begins on September 25th.”
Before leaving for China to host his foundation’s charity events, Yao had also said he was progressing well in his rehabilitation.
“The foot feels OK,” Yao said last month. “Everything is positive. We’re looking at it. Day by day, week by week, I can feel it is getting stronger.”
Yao, who will earn $17.686 million in the final season of his contract with the Rockets, had been speaking for days about the likelihood that he would no longer playing for the Chinese National team, a position he has held since the end of the 2008 Olympics. Of playing in London in 2012, Yao had said before the Beijing Olympics, “Enough, I think. Why would I need to play in London in 2012?”
He said again this week that his injury problems — Yao has had five-consecutive seasons interrupted or ended by bone injuries — would likely keep him from playing an international schedule.
“The foot injury will not allow me to play so many games anymore,” Yao said. “Like I said before, I will quit the national team and the sport one day. It’s what happens to every athlete.”
Inactive for all of last season, Yao had said last week that he did not know if he will return to the his level of play from before the most recent surgery or how long it would take if he can return to that standard. A seven-time All-Star and five-time second- or third-team All NBA selection, Yao has averaged 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in his career.
He had been greatly enthused about his workouts before leaving for China, especially his weight loss and improved conditioning since resuming workouts.
In June, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander watched one of Yao’s workouts and came away gushing about what he saw one floor below his Toyota Center office.
“I just saw him practicing,” Alexander said. “He looks great. He lost a lot of weight. He’s practicing hard. He is able to do what he wants to do. He looks like he’s in great health, which is the best you can ask for.
“I think Yao looks great.”
Yao, however, has so often had similar hopes dashed, he could not help but speculate how he would react if it happens again.