SHANGHAI: The wife of NBA centre Yao Ming is expecting their first child, sending netizens into a frenzy of hope for a new generation to lead China’s basketball team in the future.

FRENZY OF HOPE: File photo shows Yao Ming with his then teenage sweetheart Ye Li, now his wife, in Beijing. — AFP photo

“The news that Ye Li is pregnant is true. Yao Ming and his wife would like to thank all those who are showing concern,” Yao’s China-based spokesman Zhang Chi told AFP.

He declined to give further information, citing “the need for a relaxed environment” for China’s most famous basketballing couple to complete “the most important thing in their lives”. According to the Beijing News, the 29-year-old Houston Rocket — out for the season as he recovers from a foot injury — was expected to become a father in July. No decision has been made on where the baby will be born.

Both Yao and his wife — once a centre on China’s women’s national basketball team — are the offspring of professional athletes. They reportedly married at the request of sports officials in their hometown of Shanghai.

Ever since the 2.29-metre (seven-foot-six-inch) Yao married his 1.90-metre wife in 2007, speculation has run rampant as to when their first baby would be born, popular Internet portal said.

As both Yao and his wife were born in the 1980s and are only children, the couple would be allowed to give birth to two children under China’s recently relaxed ‘one-child’ family planning policy, the report said.

“We hope that Yao Ming and Ye Li will go further and raise more pillars of the next generation of Chinese basketball,” it said.

In a online poll, 76 per cent of more than 29,000 people voting said that Yao’s child was likely to grow taller than 2.05 metres, while 33 per cent said the baby would grow taller than 2.20 metres.

Yao and his wife returned to China late last year to do promotional work for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and to launch the season of the Shanghai Sharks, a professional Chinese basketball club that Yao recently purchased. — AFP