A senior Chinese sports official expressed disbelief yesterday following a report that basketball icon Yao Ming may not play next season and could be facing a career-ending injury.
Chinese fans also largely voiced skepticism over the 2.26m center’s repeated injuries, speculating it could be a ploy to lower his value as his contract will soon be up for renewal.
Yao’s camp had earlier given a pessimistic read-out on the slow recovery of his broken foot to the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), the sports Web site of major Chinese portal Sina.com said, citing CBA vice head Hu Jiashi.
“But they did not say that he would miss the coming NBA season, nor did they say he would miss the  World Championships,” Hu was quoted as saying.
“I believe his injury has not progressed to such a stage,” he said.
On Monday, Houston Rockets team doctor Tom Clanton told the Houston Chronicle that Yao’s left foot, which was broken in a May post-season game against the Los Angeles Lakers, could be a “career-threatening” injury.
“At this point, the injury has the potential for him missing this next season and could be career-threatening,” Clanton said.
“One of the things we are trying to get is a consensus opinion on that, to make certain there is no option we are overlooking that would provide an earlier return or would be an option for treatment that he would prefer rather than doing additional surgery,” he said.
Yao has already been given approval to miss this summer’s Asian Basketball Championships in the east Chinese city of Tianjin, but the CBA hopes he will be able to play for the national team at next year’s World Championships in Turkey.
Fan postings on the Sina.com Web site expressed suspicions that the Rockets were trying to drive Yao’s value down, as he has two years left on his contract and could opt out next year and sign with another team.
“The Rockets don’t want Yao to leave, so they hope to sign him early, this is the way to bring his price down,” a Sina.com posting said. “As soon as Yao Ming signs, his doctor will immediately say he can play again, 182 games will be no problem.”
Other postings were not so kind to the superstar, with many expressing impatience with his repeated injuries.
“I support Yao retiring from the NBA,” said one. “That will save him from making a fool of himself.”
Yao played in 77 regular-season games in 2008-2009, his most injury-free year since 2004-2005, when he played in 80.
Before last season, Yao missed chunks of previous three seasons with leg and foot injuries.