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Bryant salutes Yao impact on China's NBA dreams

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Yao Ming has made it possible for young Chinese basketball players to chase their NBA dreams and the country will produce more top quality players in the coming years, All Star guard Kobe Bryant said on Tuesday.

Several reports in the media have said that injury-plagued Yao will officially announce his retirement from the game at a news conference on Wednesday.

China's state television CCTV would run a four-hour program on the player, including a live broadcast of the news conference at a hotel in Yao's hometown Shanghai, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Yao became arguably Asia's biggest sports figure when he was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2002 NBA draft.

"In terms of opening up doors for Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA, or for the youth here in China to believe that it's possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player, all that started from Yao," Los Angeles Lakers guard Bryant said.

"The movement that started in the NBA of the influx of European players coming to the NBA was started by Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and those guys.

"Even that movement didn't have the impact and magnitude that Yao Ming has had. And on top of that, he's just a heck of a basketball player to boot," Bryant, who is in China on a promotional tour, added.

The seven-foot, six-inch (2.3-meter) Yao, an eight-times All Star, has been plagued by assorted injuries in recent years and missed the entire 2009-10 NBA season after suffering a fractured bone in his left foot.

He played only five games for the Rockets last season before being sidelined on November 10 when he injured his ankle during the a game.

Bryant felt Yao would leave a lasting legacy and more Chinese players would make it to top-flight NBA teams.

"Since I have been coming here and doing clinics and basketball camps with kids, you see the improvement year after year and the determination to get better and the passion they have for the game," said Bryant.

"It's just a matter of time." (Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; additional reporting by Ken Wills; editing by Peter Rutherford)