HOUSTON – Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his left ankle and the Houston Rockets said there is no timetable for the return of the 7-foot-6 center whose NBA career may be in serious jeopardy after a series of injuries.
Yao has been out since Nov. 10 with what had been called a bone bruise in the same ankle. An MRI performed Thursday revealed the stress fracture.
Yao, a seven-time All-Star, sat out last season after surgery to repair his broken left foot. The Rockets said his current injury is related to the old one, and was discovered during his current rehabilitation.
Yao was the top overall draft pick in 2002 and first began to have injury problems in the 2005-06 season.
His left foot has been the main problem. He first broke a bone in the foot with four games left in the 2005-06 season.
He broke his right leg in the 2006-07 season, forcing him to sit out 32 games, before a stress fracture in his left foot in February 2008 forced him to miss the playoffs. He had pins inserted and rushed his rehabilitation to play for China in the Beijing Olympics.
Yao played 77 regular-season games in 2008-09 and had no problems with his foot until the second round of the playoffs, when he injured it again. That injury proved to be the most serious, when the hairline fracture didn't heal and he was forced to undergo complex surgery.
When he returned this season after sitting out for more than a year, the Rockets closely monitored his playing time and limited his work to no more than 24 minutes a game.
But in the fifth game, Yao was injured again. The initial diagnosis was a mild ankle sprain that would keep him out about a week. Nine days after the injury, the team called it an ankle bone bruise and said Yao was expected to sit out two more weeks.
At the time, team doctor Tom Clanton said in a statement that Yao's left foot is "completely healed and the structural integrity of the foot is intact."
Yao has been a game-changing player and one of the NBA's most valuable and recognized ambassadors.
Thanks in large part to Yao's impact, the NBA launched NBA China in January 2008. A year ago, NBA games and programming were available on 51 television and digital media outlets in China and NBA merchandise was being sold in about 30,000 retail locations there.
The Rockets went 42-40 and missed the playoffs with Yao on the sidelines last season and are just 10-15 so far this year, at the bottom of the Southwest Division. He is due to make $17.7 million this season after signing a five-year extension in September 2005.
Back in June, Yao's return for 2010-11 was a giant selling point for general manager Daryl Morey as he began courting big-name free agents.
"To miss one year is a long time," Yao said then. "I've never been in this situation before, and I'm getting as much information as I can about my foot, to see what's the best for me and best for the Rockets."
Yao has averaged 19.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in seven seasons. He turned 30 on Sept. 12. Yao missed at least 25 games with injuries in three straight seasons between 2005-08.
In September, both Yao and coach Rick Adelman were unsure how the injured food would hold up.
"Yao is the big unknown," Adelman said then. "I don't think it's fair to say he's going to play 24 minutes. It's got to be something that he feels comfortable with, and it's going to benefit our team, in the long run."