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Yao may feed aid to toothless Sharks team

WITH his career threatened by a foot injury, basketball superstar Yao Ming may be looking to open a new chapter in his life - as one of the owners of his old team, the Shanghai Sharks.

Sharks coach Li Qiuping reportedly said yesterday that the local native is in talks with the Shanghai Sports Bureau to invest 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) to save his former team from a financial crisis that could force it out of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Li told, a major Chinese Web portal, that Team Yao, the group that manages the NBA star's career, is now in negotiations over the purchase of the local team.

The Sharks are owned by Shanghai Media Group, Hongqiao Airport and Shanghai Technical Sports Institute, which is under the control of the sports bureau.

Li said, however, that a purchase contract has not yet been signed and that other investors may also be involved.

Erik Zhang, the head of Team Yao, told the Website that it was "not the right time to talk about the purchase." And the Website of the 2.26-meter center carried no word on a possible deal.

Yao was the Sharks' center for nine years, leading it to the top of the CBA in 2002, the team's only championship since it joined the league in 1996.

Yao then went on to play for the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets.

Word about a possible sale of the Sharks has been swirling among industry insiders for months as the team slid into financial distress after its sponsor ended its contract with the team in March, two years ahead of schedule.

The Sharks went into drastic decline after Yao left to play in the US, ending its most recent season in second to last place among 18 teams, with a record of six wins and 43 losses.

The sponsor, Xiyang Group, a privately owned company based in northeastern China's Liaoning Province, ended its investment because it felt the team was "hopeless."

The company's exit pushed the Sharks into survival mode. The club will be dropped from the league if it fails to properly compensate its players.

The Sharks are struggling to pay player salaries after Xiyang quit, according to Sina. The team has to resolve the crisis before August to remain in compliance with league rules.

Meanwhile Yao's basketball future is in limbo. The All-Star suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his left foot in a May 8 playoff game. He then underwent medical treatment in the US and came to Shanghai for traditional Chinese medicine, flying back to the US last month.

The Rockets said last week that the injury had not healed and may even end the 29-year-old's basketball career.


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