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China to Switch Off Yao-Less NBA?
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The leg injury to Houston Rockets center Yao Ming may well cause millions of passionate Chinese basketball fans to switch off CCTV's NBA broadcasts.

A sports producer with CCTV, the national broadcaster, voiced concerns about the six-week absence of China's most internationally recognizable sporting star.

"It is unknown how low the TV viewing rate will drop to, but last season proved Yao was the backbone of viewing ratings," said the producer who preferred not to be named.

According to the producer, CCTV will likely rearrange its broadcasting schedule for next month due to the accident.

Yao suffered a fracture on the front of his right anteria tibia - a weight-bearing location where the knee connects to the legbone - in the first quarter of Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The injury came as Clippers forward Tim Thomas drove to the basket only for Yao and team-mate Chuck Hayes to attempt to block the shot. Thomas collided with Hayes and Yao, sending the Chinese giant to the floor in agony. The Chinese center will be sidelined for at least six weeks and could miss more time if surgery is required.

The Rockets games with Yao are always an eye-catching event for China's broadcasters, but Yao-less Rockets will lose a lion's share of live viewers in China and even worldwide.

Yao and Tracy McGrady's injury drained Rockets' seating capacity as ticket prices for Friday's game against Atlanta Hawks plummeted to only US$10.

Yao, 26, was in the midst of his finest NBA season, averaging 26.8 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.

When star guard Tracy McGrady was sidelined by back spasms seven games ago, Yao stood in and became an aggressive, dominant leader. However, he will now require strong rehabilitation effort to regain his superstar form.

Yao will miss at least 18 games and return in early February, possibly in time to play in the NBA All-Star Game. Voters have elected him a starter in his first four NBA seasons.

Yao missed 21 games in a row last season with a big toe injury and four more with a broken left foot. McGrady missed much of the season as well and the Rockets struggled to 34-48 win-lose record. Worryingly, the same fate could befall Houston again.

On Wednesday, Shane Battier hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points to help Houston beat New Jersey 96-71. Tracy McGrady added 17 points and six assists for the Rockets, who won for only the third time in nine games.

(China Daily December 29, 2006)

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