NEW YORK • Yao Ming, who inspired a generation of National Basketball Association (NBA) fans in his native China, acknowledged a career that "ended too soon" as he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
"I treasure each and every moment. I'm grateful for my time on court and for your recognition tonight," Yao said in a speech that was also littered with humorous digs at his fellow inductees.
The 2.29m-tall centre was joined in the class of 2016 by the likes of centre Shaquille O'Neal and guard Allen Iverson.
"My parents were basketball players back to the 1970s," Yao, the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, said at the ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts. "I'm so fortunate to be your son. The gift I get from you, is not only the height but the way you taught me to think, and to make decisions."
He then joked about how his parents had taught his "soft touch on free-throw line" before taking a friendly pot shot at O'Neal, who was notoriously poor from the line during his career.
Yao was not the first player from China - that honour belongs to Wang Zhizhi - but he played a huge role in helping to popularise the NBA in his homeland.
An eight-time All-Star, he played 486 games over nine years, all with the Houston Rockets, averaging 19 points and 9.2 rebounds before foot and ankle injuries forced his retirement in 2011.
O'Neal also gave a funny speech that at times was more like a roast, with his former Los Angeles Lakers team-mate Kobe Bryant among those on the receiving end.
He described Bryant as "a guy that would push me to help me win three titles in a row. But also help me get pushed off the team and traded to Miami."
O'Neal won four NBA championships - three with the Lakers and one with the Miami Heat.
Others inducted included 11-time All-Star Iverson, as well as Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medallist with the United States women's team, and the first player to be signed in the WNBA.