By Wing-Gar Cheng

Feb 27, Bloomberg

Chinese sports fans may spend the next five months tracking medical bulletins after Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in his left foot that might keep him out of the Beijing Olympics.

The Houston Rockets said yesterday the 7-foot-6 Yao will miss the rest of the National Basketball Association season because of the injury. He'll be sidelined for about four months before beginning his rehabilitation in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 8 opening ceremony in Beijing.

Yao's loss would deprive the Olympics host of one of its most recognizable sports stars internationally and most popular domestically. It would also harm China's chances of winning its first basketball medal and, according to the player, represent the biggest setback of his career.

``If I cannot play for my country in the Olympics this time, that would be my biggest loss,'' Yao, 27, said at a news conference late yesterday.

Interest in basketball in China has spiraled since the Rockets selected Yao as the top draft pick in 2002. About 300 million people play the sport, it's the most popular among youth, while the NBA is the most-watched overseas league on Chinese television.

``When it comes to basketball, he's the 800-pound gorilla,'' said Chris Renner, president of sports sponsorship consultancy Helios Partners China, in a telephone interview. Sponsors including Adidas AG and Coca-Cola Co. said they were preparing statements on Yao's injury.

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photo by wikipedia