Sports / China

Chinese veteran star ends basketball career at 40

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-12 07:44

Chinese veteran star ends basketball career at 40

Mengke Bateer's farewell ceremony in Beijing, Aug 11. [Photo/IC]

Mengke Bateer, the first Chinese player on an NBA championship-winning team, is retiring from basketball.

Bateer said on Tuesday he is bowing out because of health issues but aims to continue inspiring youngsters through a youth training program.

He rose from being a shepherd boy on the grasslands of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to become one of the most accomplished Chinese basketball stars.

Bateer's life has been changed significantly by the sport, and he's now ready to pass his experience on to the next generation through a joint youth development initiative with legendary NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon.

"It's really emotional to bid farewell to the game that I've played for almost 30 years," Bateer said with tears in his eyes at a ceremony in Beijing to announce his retirement.

"But I'm viewing it as both a happy ending as well as a new start because I will be able to join hands with my idol to continue working in the sport off the court.

"I won't leave the sport after retiring, and I hope more youngsters can fulfill their dreams through basketball like I did," said the 39-year-old who was born to an ethnic minority family in Inner Mongolia.

Tuesday's farewell announcement was attended by Olajuwon.

Rising to stardom after joining the NBA's Denver Nuggets in 2001, the 2.1-meter center became the first Chinese to start an NBA game with the Nuggets during the 2001-02 regular season.

He then won a championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs the next season after being traded to the team in the summer of 2002.

In the early 2000s, US media called Bateer along with Wang Zhizhi - the first Chinese to play in the NBA - and eight-time All Star Yao Ming the "Walking Great Wall" but only Bateer made it to the finals.

Despite the limited playing time on court, "the season I spent with the Spurs was the most rewarding spell in my career as the team spirit and the work ethic there inspired me a lot", said Bateer, who returned to play in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2005.

Considered one of the most dominant centers in the CBA with the Beijing Ducks (1997-2002) and Xinjiang Flying Tigers (2007-13), Bateer never won a domestic league title.

"That's probably the only regret in my career," he said on Tuesday.

However, the opportunity to work with his role model has made up for setbacks elsewhere, he said.

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