HOUSTON (Reuters) - The playing future of Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is in jeopardy after the seven-time NBA All-Star underwent surgery on Thursday to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle.
The seven-foot six-inch (2.3-meter) Yao has not played since injuring his ankle in Houston's loss to the Washington Wizards on November 10 and revealed that the procedure could ultimately end his career.
"I know this will be another long rehab but I'm looking forward to beginning my recovery," China's Yao said in a statement.
"I will use this time to consider all of my options and will make a decision regarding my career plans as I get closer to the end of my rehab."
Yao, 30, missed all of last season after fracturing a bone in his left foot that required surgery. He has played in only five of his team's 35 games this season.
In a bid to limit the impact of Yao's left foot, the team had imposed strict limits on his playing time this season.
The towering Yao, who has career averages of 19 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, left the game against the Wizards after the first 6:14 without a point, which marked the first time in eight years that he failed to score in a game.
During the offseason, Yao said it would take at least one injury-free NBA season before he could even start thinking about regaining his best form.
"Talk about recovering my form is nothing but nonsense and will only be realized if I can get through the next season smoothly," he said at the time.
Chinese interest in the NBA soared after Yao was selected first overall by the Rockets in the 2002 draft.
The league now has 51 different networks broadcasting games in China. The number of viewers of NBA programing in China has risen 31 percent from the 2007-2008 season to a record of more than 2.1 billion, while traffic on the Chinese section of NBA.com has surged 60 percent in the same period.
Injuries are nothing new to China's best-known sporting export, who only missed two games during his first three seasons in the NBA.
Yao played 57 of a possible 82 games in the 2005-06 season because of an infection in his left big toe and a broken left foot suffered late that same season.
Limited to 48 games and 55 games over the following two seasons, Yao played 77 games in 2008-09 but suffered a hairline fracture in his foot during the Western Conference semi-finals against the LA Lakers that required surgery.
Yao and his wife Ye Li, a former basketball player with the Chinese national team, celebrated the birth of their first child last May.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Julian Linden)