Xinhua - The Houston Rockets officially retired Yao Ming's No. 11 jersey during the half-time break of their game against the Chicago Bulls at Toyota Centre on Friday night, in the presence of the player and his family.
During the nationally televised grand ceremony, the Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander called Friday night "a great moment in Rocket history, to honour a man of such magnitude".
"Yao was a really, really great player. I wanted him to be viewed as more than that, as an ambassador to the world and especially into China, and what a great person and humanitarian he is," said Alexander, who donated US$100,000 (S$141,000) to the Yao Ming Foundation.
The 36-year-old Yao Ming said, "When I first came to town, Houston was no different than any other city in the United States. But as time passed by, all the faces came into memory. Remember this, that Houston for me from now on is not just a word. Every time they mention it, your faces are in my memory, in my brain.
"I hope people see the jersey there and remember the story, not only about myself, but also my team-mates, my opponents. We created the story together, just like the other jerseys created the story for us," Yao said.
"Looking back, I didn't expect to be where I am today. I simply wanted to play basketball," he added.
Fans gave Yao several waves of applause, shouting: "We love you".
Yao was selected as the first overall pick by the Rockets in the 2002 draft and spent nine years - his entire career - with the franchise.
He averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 52 per cent from the floor across 486 career games.
He was selected to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game eight times, and was named to the All-NBA Second Team twice. He also became the only player from outside the United States to lead the NBA in All-Star voting.
Persistent injuries forced him to hang up his No. 11 jersey in 2011. Last September, he entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Yao is the sixth Rockets player to have his number retired, joining Clyde Drexler (22), Calvin Murphy (23), Moses Malone (24), Hakeem Olajuwon (34), and Rudy Tomjanovich (45).