Stress fracture found in Yao Ming's left ankle | NBA Basketball | - Houston Chronicle

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Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

Dec. 16, 2010, 6:46PM

Rockets center Yao Mings career, begun with spectacular hope and promise, could be facing its greatest threat.

An MRI performed Thursday found a stress fracture in Yaos left ankle five months after he said he might have to retire if he cannot stay healthy.

Yao, however, held out hope that he can come back from his latest set back.
"Right now, he told, I still hope I can come back and play.

The injury is in a different part of the ankle, the medial malleolus, which is on the inside of the ankle, than the previous injuries to the tarsal navicular bone at the top of the ankle that required massive reconstructive surgery in July 2009. But the injuries are not considered unrelated.

No one has worked harder than Yao Ming, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said in an e-mail. He has been an All-Star player, even better person, and a global ambassador for the Rockets and the NBA. I know he will continue to persevere through this very difficult setback. Our entire organization, and Rockets fans all over the world, are behind him 100 percent.

Previous tests since Yaos Nov. 10 sprained ankle and bone bruise did not show the injury, which could have developed during his rehabilitation from the ankle sprain and bone bruise. The MRI was another stunning turn, coming with Yao optimistic he would be cleared to resume his comeback.

Yao, the first pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, a seven-time All-Star and the beloved face of Chinas athletics hopes, has missed all or parts of six-consecutive seasons with bone injuries.

"If the foot injury does not heal next season, Yao said in an interview with Chinese state media in July, I might choose to call it quits.

Yao, 30, emphasized a month after his comment in China that he was actually speaking about the development of the Chinese national team without him, but he reiterated that if he could not play without being hurt he might have to choose not to play.

I also told them, the worst case, Im just saying the worst case, the worst case, is that I dont go through the season and have to retire after the season, Yao said.

It is too soon to know if this will be a worst case. The latest stress fracture would normally not be career threatening, but it is similar to the injury problems of forward Grant Hill, which also began as a sprain and required four surgeries before he finally found a solution. Hill had reconstructive surgery, an option that would be further complicated by Yaos previous surgeries.

Others have come back with far fewer complications, including Mavericks All-Star Jason Kidd and Rockets rookie Patrick Patterson, who had the injury and surgery as a sophomore at Kentucky in 2008.

The Rockets said there is no timetable for Yaos return. If surgery is not required, a stress fracture often requires roughly two months before an on-court rehab can begin. Because Yao has already missed five weeks, the rehab would be even more gradual than usual.

As with the previous stress fracture, Thursdays test results came amid relative optimism. Yao had said Monday that he considered himself ready to rejoin practices and play in games, though he agreed that the muscles around the ankle were weakened by the inactivity following the injury.

When the previous stress fracture was discovered between Games 3 and 4 of the 2009 Western Conference semifinals, he had been hoping to play the next day. Weeks later, another MRI was thought to be needed only to clear him to begin the next stage of his rehabilitation. It instead sent him to weeks of examinations by specialists and the extensive surgery performed by former Rockets physician Tom Clanton.

"You have to say because of his size, the biomechanics of his foot, the history of what has happened and what he does playing basketball at his size, he is always at risk of something like this happening," Clanton said in 2009. "No one else in the world is doing what he is doing. There is a risk. We have to manage that.

Yao is in the final season of his contract, worth $17.686 million this season. If Yao is out for the remainder of the season, the Rockets could petition the NBA for a disabled player exception to the salary cap to replace Yao by permitting them to spend up to half his annual salary to acquire a replacement player.

For now, the Rockets thought of their center and another setback.
I was shocked, Rockets guard Aaron Brooks said. I felt so bad. He works so hard. You hate when bad things happen to good people.

I remember him saying just walking into the gym, just hearing the sound of the ball hit the floor, that he loves to hear it. It shows his passion. No one loves basketball more. No one works harder. If someone takes away the thing you like to do most and says you cant do it any more, that would be just terrible.