SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Standing seven-foot, six inches tall and weighing 140 kilograms it is hard to imagine Yao Ming being afraid of anything, but the Chinese basketball icon, who retired on Wednesday, told Reuters he was “scared” after being taken first in the 2002 NBA draft.
The former Houston Rockets center, who opened up the world’s most populous country to the NBA and became an Asian sporting icon, ended his professional basketball career at a packed media conference in his hometown of Shanghai.
The 30-year-old told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that the prospect of plunging into the most competitive basketball league in the world had shaken him.
“Sometimes you can use the word scared to represent my emotional state at the beginning,” Yao told Reuters at the offices of the Shanghai Sharks -- the Chinese Basketball League team he now owns.
“The NBA is a place full of talent and before playing there you don’t know how small you are, even though I am seven foot six,” he added with a wide grin.
”The NBA is the highest level of basketball in the world. Everyone dreams to be part of it and to compete with the best players in the world and to show people what you can do.
“I was very fortunate to have that opportunity and have some success in there, and that’s enough.”
One of the tallest players to have played in the NBA, Yao was plagued by foot and ankle injuries toward the end of his eight seasons in the NBA.
He played just five games in the final two seasons but said he was happy to have walked away from the game while he still could.
“I survived it. That’s what I‘m proud of,” he added when asked if he was frustrated that the injuries may have robbed him of a career that was entering its prime.
”When I (had) my surgery (in 2009) I had already been told there was no guarantee that I would be totally healthy to play basketball again. There was a case that I could re-injure it but I thought I wanted to give it a try.
”Not just me but also my trainer and my coach, and my team helped me and (we) worked very hard to get back to playing basketball.
“I did, and I played for five games and (got re-injured) and decided ‘okay, that’s it. I would like to walk off the court myself’. I think I just did not want to end my career in a wheelchair.”
Yao, who finished his career as an eight-times All Star and averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in 486 games, did have some regrets and felt there had been missed opportunities during his career with the Rockets, who did not advance past the first round of the playoffs in four of the seasons he was fit.
”If you are looking back detail by details, yes there are a lot of regrets, but if you look at the big picture a lot of people dream to have the same career that I had.
“Man, I just accept it, appreciate what I had and move on.”
Yao said the toughest opponent he faced in the NBA was Shaquille O‘Neal, the former LA Lakers center who was one of the most successful and recognizable players in the sport.
”He was not only big from outside, he’s big from the inside. Mentally he just wants to try and eat you on court.
“That’s another reason I‘m proud I survived.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford