Houston Rockets center Yao Ming played 12 minutes in a basketball game on Thursday, allowing more than a billion of his countrymen to collectively exhale in relief, as China beat Serbia, 96-72, in an Olympic warmup game in Hangzhou, China.
It means Yao, barring a relapse, will play for China at the Beijing Games. And the USA-China game on Aug. 10 at Wukesong Indoor Stadium will feature the NBA's two best big men, Yao and Orlando's Dwight Howard, both starters in the 2008 NBA All-Star game.
China, both the country and the national team, had good reason to fear he would miss it when he fractured his foot in February, which ended his NBA season. Being without its greatest and most visible athletic export would have put a huge crimp in China's style as it hosted the Olympics and in China's chances of pulling some big upsets.
The two centers played evenly this season. Howard (21 points, 11 boards) and Yao (19 points, 17 rebounds) battled to a standstill in Orlando's victory on Dec. 19. Yao (26 points, 10 boards) outplayed Howard (16 points, 8 rebounds) in Houston's victory on Jan. 4. Howard also fouled out of the game.
Both will be coming off injuries. Howard fractured his sternum during the NBA playoffs but was nearly ready to return two weeks ago when the U.S. team. met briefly in Las Vegas. The U.S. returns to training camp on July 21.