The Houston Rockets retired Yao Ming's No. 11 jersey at a special halftime ceremony Friday night during a game against the Chicago Bulls.
China's greatest basketball player was an eight-time NBA All Star and was voted in as a starter for each season of his playing career. He averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game during his nine years with the Rockets.
Yao Ming during the ceremony
Yao Ming's jersey hanging in the Toyota Center rafters
Former teammate Shane Battier hugs Yao during the ceremony
James Harden hugs Yao during his jersey retirement ceremony
The 36-year-old became the sixth Rockets player to have his jersey retired, and the mayor of Houston even declared February 2 as "Yao Ming Day."
The 7-foot-6 former center gave a touching speech during the ceremony:
"When I first came to town, Houston was no different than any other city in the United States. But as time passed by, all the faces came into memory...
"Remember this, that Houston for me from now on is not just a word. Every time they mention it, your faces are in my memory, in my brain...
"Thank you for the journey."
Watch the entire ceremony below (VPN off):
A teenage sensation for his hometown Shanghai Sharks, Yao led the franchise to their lone China Basketball Association (CBA) title in 1999 as a 20 year old, averaging 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds per game. His success led to his being the first Chinese player to be drafted first overall in the NBA.
Despite initial skepticism (see Hall of Famer and Inside the NBA's Charles Barkley’s famed early bet that Yao would never score 19 points in a game in his rookie season), Yao would make eight NBA All-Star teams.
Yao’s credentials were bolstered by his role accelerating the NBA’s popularity in his home country, and in September he was inducted into the league's Hall of Fame as part of a star-studded class that included former MVPs Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.
READ MORE: Watch Yao Ming's Hall of Fame Speech
Injuries cut his career short including a couple cruel ones that cut his season short as he was leading the Houston Rockets as a darkhorse contender. However, he remains an ambassador of the game through initiatives like his Yao Academy Basketball Camps and a special guest for big games like the NBA Global Games battle between his Houston Rockets and the New Orleans Pelicans last fall, as well as the second Pac-12 China Game in November 12.
For more, check out our 2014 interview with Yao Ming.
[Images via China Daily]