Fracture delays Yao return

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HOUSTON, December 17- Chinese basketball star Yao Ming has a stress fracture in his left ankle that will further delay the resumption of the Houston Rockets center's injury-plagued NBA career, his team said.The towering 2.26m (7-foot-6) center, whose NBA career has been derailed by a series of injuries, has been sidelined since November 10 with what the team had called a bone bruise in the same ankle.

In a terse press release, the Rockets said his latest injury was related to a prior one, and was discovered during his rehabilitation.

"There is no timetable for his return at this time," the Rockets’ statement said. "The team will have no additional comment at this time."

Yao remained upbeat, telling sports website ESPN.com: "I still hope I can come back and play."

But in a statement issued through the Rockets, Yao admitted the news was "disappointing."

"I have been working hard to get back on the court, so today’s news was very disappointing for me," he said.

"I will need some time to speak with my doctors to figure out my options moving forward, but I want to thank all those who have expressed their support for me during this time.

"I will wait on commenting further until we have a set plan."

Yao, a seven-time All-Star, missed all of last season after surgery to repair his broken left foot.

This season the Rockets hoped to keep their big man healthy by limiting him to 24 minutes per game and making sure he didn’t play in back-to-back games.

Even so, Yao was hurt in his fifth game of the season. First diagnosed as a mild ankle sprain, the injury was later said to be an ankle bone bruise.

At the time, team doctor Tom Clanton said in a statement that Yao’s troublesome left foot was "completely healed, and the structural integrity of the foot is intact."

Yao, 30, was the top overall draft pick in 2002 but the 2005-2006 campaign saw the first of many injuries when he broke a bone in his left foot with four games remaining in the season.

In the 2006-2007 season he broke his right leg and missed 32 games, and a stress fracture in his left foot in February of 2008 caused him to miss the postseason.

He had pins inserted to stabilize the foot and played that year for China at the Beijing Olympics.

In 2008-09, Yao played 77 regular-season NBA games and had no problems with his foot until the second round of the playoffs, and when that hairline crack didn’t heal he had the surgery that kept him out all of last season.

"No one has worked harder than Yao Ming," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told the Houston Chronicle. "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," Alexander said. "Our entire organization, and Rockets fans all over the world, are behind him 100 percent."

When healthy, Yao has been a force for the Rockets, and he has also been a valuable ambassador for the NBA abroad.

His success helped pave the way for the launch of NBA China in January of 2008 and contributed to an explosion of the NBA’s popularity there.

With Yao on the sidelines last season, Houston finished 42-40 and missed the playoffs. This season they are 10-15 and trailing in the Southwest Division.

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