Monday, July 11, 2011

Yao's retirement to squeeze league

BEIJING — Yao Ming's retirement could diminish the NBA's once-burgeoning popularity in China, with many fans saying they would no longer watch games.
"What's the point of watching NBA now?" said an online user called Lubingxia on Sina Weibo, a Chinese
Twitter-like site.
An online poll on Weibo by Monday lunchtime showed 57 percent of respondents would stop watching the NBA after Yao's retirement.
The 7-6 center is expected to announce July 20 at a news conference that he's retiring from the NBA after nine seasons because of leg and foot injuries.
He boosted the popularity of the basketball league in China and throughout Asia, spiking merchandise sales and TV ratings for games after the Rockets made him the top overall pick in the 2002 draft.
Yao, 30, missed 250 regular-season games over the past six seasons.
"He is one of the most influential people in today's society - especially to those born in the 1980s," said Ren Bo, 25, a sports trainer. "It's probably going to be awhile until we see another Yao Ming."
The news upset fans in China, where he has been praised as a role model for the past decade and strengthened that image by carrying his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"It is Yao Ming who makes the kids in China like basketball, and it's also Yao Ming who makes the kids know how a real professional basketball player should be," said Xu Jicheng, a longtime basketball commentator.
"I'm not thrilled about his retirement, but I will still support him," said Guo Ju Fei, 24, a small business owner. "Millions of Chinese still idolize him."
Some online comments conveyed sadness that Yao's retirement would mean the end of a great era and that fans would not get to see him compete at the 2012 London Olympics. There also was some anger that his injuries kept him from reaching his peak in the NBA.
"I still haven't recovered from the fact that Yao is retiring," wrote one online user going by the name of Xie Chen. "The feeling is worse than being dumped."
Others hoped a "miracle" would occur and that Yao would change his mind and remain in the NBA.
Many comments expressed gratitude to Yao for being a Chinese icon and an athlete his countrymen could be proud of.

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