HOUSTON -- Thaddeus Brown, the Houston Rockets CEO, described Yao Ming best on Sunday: "A native Texan and a Houston Rocket for life."
Drafted No. 1 overall in 2002, Yao played an integral role in helping the NBA become a global enterprise in China. Now, following a nine-year career that was cut short by foot injuries, Yao will have his No. 11 jersey retired Feb. 2, when the Rockets host the Atlanta Hawks.
"Jersey retired?" Yao said at a news conference officially announcing the event. "It just happened too soon. It's something I couldn't have dreamed of. I appreciate everything Houston did for me, the opportunity to come over here and play."
This has been a special year for the center, given that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month.
Yao will join fellow Rockets Hall of Famers Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon as players to have their jerseys hung from the rafters. Beloved former coach and player Rudy Tomjanovich also has his number in lights.
"I said it before, but so many nights when I walked through that court or played on that court, I looked up to those jerseys and thought, 'Those jerseys are the spirit of the team of Houston,'" Yao said. "Those jerseys are honored, and those jerseys are motivation ... I would be honored to continue."
The Rockets opened the preseason with a 131-94 victory over the Shanghai Sharks, a team Yao owns. It was the first NBA preseason game involving a team from China. Thus, Yao will serve as more than an ambassador for the game when the Rockets visit China next week as part of a two-game exhibition.
"Every player in the NBA owes a bit of gratitude for Yao Ming," Brown said.
Added Yao: "I hope my career here is something that meets the expectation of basketball fans."
Yao Ming 'couldn't have dreamed' of Rockets jersey retirement