Chinese basketball star Yao Ming retires??

Yao Ming, the Chinese giant who became the first superstar basketball player from Asia, has told the Houston Rockets and the NBA that he has retired, according to multiple reports.

The Houston Chronicle, ESPN and Sports Illustrated reported that Yao has decided against trying to make another comeback after injuries limited him to playing in only five games over the past two NBA seasons.

The Chronicle reported that the 2.29-metre Yao told the club a month ago he was not coming back after eight seasons in the NBA, the most recent of which have been dogged by injuries.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Rockets or the league regarding the status of the 30-year-old Yao, whose groundbreaking career helped the global growth of basketball and made him one of China's most famous exports.

Yao's agent in China told reporters that his man would make an announcement in his home city of Shanghai on July 20, fuelling speculation in China's media that he would formally announce his retirement then.

"I am not denying the reports... I'm just saying Yao Ming has not announced his retirement," Zhang Mingji told AFP on Saturday.

"On July 20, we will hold a press conference in Shanghai to discuss the future plans of Yao Ming."

Yao made his debut for the Rockets in 2002 after a stellar career for the Chinese national team and the Shanghai Sharks.

While Yao was not the first Chinese player in the NBA, his engaging personality made him a favorite for sponsors seeking a way to attract interest in the potentially hugely profitable China market and for NBA fans across Asia.

Beyond that, there was a formidable set of skills.

Yao had a shooting touch for shots away from the basket, a quickness with the ball that enabled him to baffle even the best of rival centers, including NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, who himself retired last month.

"You are one of the greatest players ever to come out of China, one of the greatest players period. I'm going to miss you bro. Enjoy retirement. Let's go on vacation, bro me and you," O'Neal said in a video posted on his Twitter account.

Yao's former Rockets teammate Tracy McGrady also paid tribute on Twitter, saying: "Join me with standing ovation for yao ming. I wish Yao continued success in all his ventures in life.

"yao ming absolutely instrumental in the growth and popularity of our game abroad."

Yao's NBA career with the Rockets has been plagued by numerous injuries, the most recent of them a stress fracture in his left leg suffered in a November 10 loss last season at Washington which may well prove to be his farewell bow.

In 486 NBA games, Yao averaged 19.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots and 1.6 assists.

But because of broken bones in his left foot, Yao missed the entire 2009-2010 season and played only five games last season before what was originally diagnosed as a high ankle sprain was found to be a career-ending stress fracture.

Yao was the top selection in the 2002 NBA Draft by Houston, becoming the first player from outside the United States to be selected as the top choice.

With tremendous support from his hundreds of millions of fans in China, Yao was voted an NBA All-Star Game starter eight times. His 2007 NBA matchup against compatriot Yi Jianlian was seen in more than 200 million Chinese homes.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and Daryl Morey, the club's general manager, said they would have wanted to sign a new contract with Yao if he was healthy.

In May, Yao said he was continuing with rehabilitation in hopes of making a return but that any decision was unlikely before August.

With the NBA club owners and players having shut down the league for the first time since the 1998-1999 season was cut to 50 games, the planned start of the upcoming season around November 1 is in jeopardy.

That might have offered Yao even more time to recover had he felt he had been able to do so.

Yao helped bridge a culture gap in the NBA, where many of his team-mates and rivals respected Yao's work ethic and hustle as well as his determination to learn English.