(Reuters) – Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming was elected president of the Chinese Basketball Association on Thursday.
The 36-year-old, China’s most successful basketball export, became the first non-government official to lead the sport’s national governing body, state news agency Xinhua said.
Yao was confirmed president at a CBA congress in Beijing on Thursday, a report posted on the CBA’s Weibo account said.
Local media said he was elected unanimously.
The 7ft-6in Shanghai-born center Yao was the top overall draft pick in 2002 and played nine seasons for the Rockets until retiring in 2011 after injuries began taking their toll.
He bought the professional Shanghai Sharks team in 2009 and has been an active power-broker in Chinese basketball since retiring from the NBA.
Yao said at the congress he would sell his stake in the Shanghai Sharks before next season and pursue a reform agenda for the professional league, state media reported.
“After being regrouped as a full-fledged non-governmental organization, we have to better study our own situation while learning from overseas expertise to work out our way to develop the game in China,” the China Daily quoted him as saying.
The first Chinese player to carve out a successful career in the NBA, Yao became his country’s most globally recognized athlete and an inspiration for millions of compatriots in the NBA-mad country.
He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame last year and the Rockets retired his number 11 jersey earlier this month.
The domestic CBA league has increasingly become a lucrative destination for foreign players but critics have complained they deny local talents development pathways.
Yao has lamented in the past that local players are unable to capture the imagination of some of the imports, who include former NBA All-star Stephon Marbury, who plays for the Beijing Ducks.
“We need to do something to help local basketball grow. You can’t always rely on the foreign basketball players to come and help with your marketing and all that,” Yao told the Wall Street Journal in a 2012 interview.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by John O’Brien)