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On Thursday, September 1, the Houston Rockets announced their signing of center Yao Ming to a multi-year contract extension with the maximum value allowed under the league's new collective bargaining agreement. The contract enables Yao to experience the prime of his career as a Rocket, a career that has seen Yao put together numbers of 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.

"This is an exciting time for the Rockets," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said during a conference call to announce the extension. "Yao is going to be a part of the Rockets for a long time. I feel he'll become one of the great players in NBA history. He's got the size, intelligence, youth, and quickness to be a phenomenal, forceful player in the league."

Yao enjoyed a highly successful 2004-05 NBA season. In his third year, the 7'6", three-time NBA All-Star received a record number of votes with 2.56 million when he was selected as the starting center for the Western Conference for the 2005 NBA All-Star Game. Yao compiled averages of 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per contest last season, and emerged as as a dominant playoff force. During the first round of the 2005 Western Conference playoffs against Dallas, Yao posted 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.71 blocks, and shot 65% from the floor. Since his rookie year in 2002-03, Yao has seen his scoring, shooting percentage, and shot-blocking numbers increase annually. With his contractual matters put aside, Yao will be able to focus strictly on basketball.

"I'm thankful for Mr. Alexander's trust and giving me the opportunity to play in Houston," Yao said. "I can put more energy into next season and future seasons now that the (contract) matter has been put aside. This was something in my mind, and my heart is always in Houston."

While many upcoming free agents embrace the opportunity to pursue other destinations, that was not the case for Yao. The Rockets have stood by Yao's side even as they were criticized for taking him with the #1 pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. That loyalty and how he was embraced by Houston led to an easy decision.

"It was not difficult (to re-sign) because I love Houston and I have very good teammates," Yao said. "I think our team is getting stronger. Everything is getting comfortable for me."

From an ownership standpoint, Alexander was clear on how significant it was to re-sign Yao for the Rockets.

"It's as important as anything I've ever done as owner," Alexander said. "To have the next great big man of the NBA, it's very important for the team and the city. We're trying to win championships, and anything that takes away from that concentration (such as contract issues) hurts. I think we can be one of the top three teams in the West. We have a great team and great coach. And we have an asset that a lot of teams don't have with Yao in the middle."

Participating in the conference call from Beijing, Yao will be making his return to Houston in late September. He currently has obligations with the Chinese basketball team, and afterwards he will be responsible for a few charities in Japan. Yet despite being busy for the time being, Yao made it clear that he has enjoyed this offseason and has been able to rest. For the past four summers, Yao has played for the Chinese National Team, but did not this season as he focused on working out and getting rest for the upcoming NBA campaign. For the first time in quite a while, Yao is excited about coming into training camp healthy and rested.

"All I did (this summer) was follow the trainer's schedule (of workouts)," Yao said. "I feel pretty healthy. Upon my return to Houston, I'll be totally healthy."