Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/21/12
HOUSTON There is no if. This was Yao Ming at his philosophical finest; part Yoda, part Neo. In his first appearance at Toyota Center since his fragile feet forced his premature retirement last summer, Yao was bombarded was questions from media seeking to unearth any residual bitterness in his disposition. The statement was profound the first time Yao uttered it in response, yet media persisted. Surely Yao was bloated with regret and remorse over a career cut short before vast promise reached fruition. He must have harbored resentment over what never materialized for himself singularly or collectively with oft-injured teammate Tracy McGrady. Yao projected an aura of peace and tranquility yet his inquisitors, blinded by their assumptions that Yao somehow felt incomplete as a human, were oblivious to it. So Yao had to repeat himself despite the message coming through so resoundingly clear initially: There is no if. "I feel pleased that I could have a career that's been in Houston," Yao said. "That's been a great team I played with, great fans, great media you guys all treated me very, very well. I grew my family here and obviously I grew myself mentally from a young boy. "Basically this city is full of my experience and full of my emotion." How could one feel cheated over something they never clutched? When Yao was selected first overall by the Rockets in 2002, he was not promised fame and fortune. When the Rockets acquired McGrady from the Magic and teamed him with Yao believing that tandem would return the franchise to the halcyon Clutch City days of the prior decade, there was no contractual guarantee their union would yield championships. Perhaps Yao always maintained the perspective that "what ifs" are paralyzing and pointless. Obviously the injuries were frustrating; such adversity would test the constitution of the most pragmatic individual. But what Yao attempted to convey were the memories he cherished. He matured in Houston, developed lasting relationships with its franchise and it's players and its fan base. He became an ambassador for China in America and for the NBA in China. He was everything to everyone and kept his head held high even as his body broke down under the weight. His success was not defined by postseason series victories. As the NBA penetrated the Chinese market with his face at the forefront of its endeavor, Yao embraced the responsibility. As China presented Yao as its shining light for its national sports program, he didn't shy from his role. Yao was grandiose, and he transcended the bottom-line business of wins and losses. He served agendas that rendered victories secondary. In the midst of all of that, where is there room for animus? Rockets fans, and those that follow the team, might lament what never was, but Yao remains grounded in the reality of appreciating all that he experienced. "We had this chance before and we missed it," Yao said of leading the Rockets to the NBA Finals alongside McGrady. "Like I said, there is no if. We just need to face ourselves and say, OK, we did our best,' and just walk away." The prism through which ordinary athletes forced into retirement are viewed doesn't fit Yao. His existence wasn't defined by basketball thus there is no void in his life now that his playing career has run its natural course. He is a college student at Jiao Tong University. He owns the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has delved into the wine business. For Yao, there is fulfillment after basketball. Perhaps that's why the smiles came so easily and the perspective was so wondrous. Yao, at 31 years old, has his entire life ahead of him. He has a family, a career, a hobby and aspirations beyond the hardwood. When his feet finally failed him Yao merely transitioned into untapped passions. He's already walked down paths unfamiliar to most men, yet his journey is far from complete. Yao made that much clear on Tuesday. Yao also made apparent that retirement hasn't diminished his sense of humor. There was self-deprecation in his adding rehab to the list of tasks he normally completed at Toyota Center. And when someone asked Yao to recount his fondest moments with the Rockets, he just couldn't help himself and delivered a one-liner that made everyone remember just how unique an individual the Rockets once employed. Said Yao: "When (Rockets director of media relations) Nelson Luis says, Last question.'" Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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