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Yao Not At Full Speed Yet

The Rockets' sizable center is representing his country in the Olympics this summer, and he is expected to make his return to NBA play at the start of the 2008-09 campaign.

But he still has a ways to go before his physical recovery is complete.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle's Fran Blinebury:

In the Diamond Ball Tournament this week in Nanjing, Yao looked at times dominant with his inside scoring and interior defense and at other times like an athlete struggling to get his conditioning and timing back to top form.

"I feel weak," he said. "I would say I am about 60 to 70 percent and that is frustrating. I am sure now that I will play in the Olympics," Yao said. "But I won't be in my best shape. I know that. And that is disappointing."

The Beijing Olympics are more than just a showcase of the finest athletes on the planet to another spot on the globe. To a Chinese society that has been slowly unfolding and revealing itself like a lotus blossom for nearly four decades, these Games are the long-awaited throwing open of the doors and letting the world into a firecracker explosion of 21st century progress. Since Beijing was awarded the Olympics in 2001, the Chinese have spent seven years preparing to show off their culture, their modern infrastructure and their sports stars.

"This is about different cultures, different backgrounds and bringing all people different ways of thinking about things," Yao said. "I can't say that any side is wrong. Americans say the Rockets pay my salary. No problem. I like the Rockets. Whatever uniform I wear, I play 100 percent.

Seems fair enough on all sides, though it sounds like everyone still has reason to be concerned about the big man's health.

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Yao has the weight of an entire nation's basketball hopes hanging on his shoulders, and that said nation happens to be his homeland and the host of these Olympics only makes this year's competition that much more significant.  He's also got his employer's championship aspirations on him, too, and both situations represent pursuits that Yao is expected to take on, and fairly so.

There is nothing here but understanding for his refusal to pass up what could be a once in lifetime opportunity this summer in Beijing,  Hopefully, he'll be able to give the Chinese team everything he has without damaging his body further as he gears up for a title run with the Rockets as well.

And from this USA-Celts fan's perspective, here's hoping the man stays healthy but title-free.