Yao Ming

Yao Ming

  2001 Summer Universiade, Beijing: Silver in men's basketball.

At 7ft 6in, Yao Ming had a head start over many other mortals in seeking a high level basketball career – and he certainly capitalised on it as he became one of the leading performers in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for Houston Rockets, as well as winning numerous honours for China.

The only child of two professional basketball players – 6ft 7in father Yao Zhiyuan and 6ft 3in mother Fang Fendgi – Yao began playing the sport at the age of nine and by the time he was 17 he was playing for the senior Shanghai Sharks team.

After five seasons of increasingly impressive performances, Yao was persuaded to enter the 2002 NBA draft, joining the Rockets, with whom he would remain until his enforced retirement through injury in 2011.

While his stock in the game was growing, the center had already earned honours for his country, earning gold medals at the Asian Championships in 1999 and 2001. He would go on to add two further golds in this arena in 2003 and 2005, as well as helping China to silver at the 2002 Asian Games.

In 2001 he made his mark for his country at the Summer Universiade in Beijing, where China took the silver medal behind Yugoslavia.

A year before he had made his Olympic debut for China at the Sydney Games, and three years later he was the Chinese flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony for the Athens Games, where he was in the team that qualified for the quarter-finals, losing 95-75 to Lithuania.

Four years later he played again for his country at his home Olympics in Beijing, where once again they were defeated by Lithuania in the quarter-finals.

In 2003, Yao became the first rookie to start an NBA All-Star Game since 1995, and he finished the season as runner-up in the Rookie of the Year competition. He would take part in the next two All-Star Games as well, breaking Michael Jordan's record for the most All-Star votes in 2005 with a total of 2,558,278.

In 2005 the Rockets made the NBA play-offs for the second consecutive year.

For the next six years Yao's level of performance would be undermined by persistent injuries, culminating in a third fracture to his left foot which prompted him to retire in 2011.

Yao Ming had a successful career in the NBA with Houston Rockets ©Getty Images
Yao Ming had a successful career in the NBA with Houston Rockets ©Getty Images