Yao Ming's NBA season ended in late February because of a stress fracture in his left foot. Yao had screws placed in the foot on March 3. Recovery time for such an injury is approximately four months. In this case that would be July. Under normal circumstances, a team would push out that timetable a bit further to take advantage of the offseason. These, however, aren't normal circumstances.
Yao is China's most famous athlete, and with the Summer Olympics in Beijing starting in August, a lot of people -- oh roughly, 1/5 of the world's population -- are counting on him to be there, leading the country's basketball team, giving its people something to cheer about and rally around in the wake of tragedy. In addition, the economic impact of Yao's participation is monumental.
The Rockets, meanwhile, also have invested a lot in Yao, who is under contract for $15 million in 2009, $16.3 million in 2010, and $17.7 million in 2011. If I owned the Rockets, a significant part of me would dread Yao playing in these games so soon after the injury. I might even seek compensation for his participation. I realize this isn't a likely possibility due to the prior agreement between China and the Rockets that permits him to play in the United States.
Yao will play because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's also the right thing to do.
But for the Rockets it's also scary.