BEIJING -- Yao Ming will return to light training with China's national team Friday, and expects to play in pre-Olympic warm-up games.
The fitness of the Houston Rockets center for the Beijing Olympics has been a subject of national concern in China since he suffered a stress fracture to his left foot in February, ending his NBA season and threatening his star turn as part of China's team at the games.
A day after returning to Beijing, Yao said X-rays and an MRI exam taken in Houston on Tuesday showed his recovery was on schedule, with the foot about 80 percent healed. The remaining 20 percent usually takes a full year, Yao said.
"I've now done everything I can possibly do to get fit," said Yao, the most popular and highest-earning Chinese athlete. "In terms of being basketball fit, the only way to do that is to play games."
With pressure on Yao to perform, some have questioned whether he would be pushing himself so hard were the Olympics not being held in Beijing. Yao dismissed such speculation, saying that there were "no 'ifs' about the Olympics, there are no 'ifs' about me."
"This is the biggest, weightiest opportunity of my life," Yao said. "Intense pressure goes hand-in-hand with major competitions."
Yao said he would start light training with the national team on Friday, giving him time to
learn tactics and strategies worked out by China's Lithuanian-born coach Jonas Kazlauskas.
The Chinese men's team is in a tough group at the Olympics, facing the United States in its first game. They are joined by defending world champion Spain and Angola, with the remaining two teams in the six-team Group B to be determined by a July 14-20 qualifying tournament in Athens, Greece.
Yao said Spain and the U.S. would be tough to beat, making it crucial to take points away from Angola and the other two teams.
"That's the best way to ensure we get into the final eight," Yao said. "I hope that's the way it goes."
Also Thursday, Yao announced the launch of his personal charitable foundation, saying its first projects would involve rebuilding schools and providing sports equipment and other forms of help to children left homeless by last month's earthquake in Sichuan province.
Yao said he originally planned to wait until after the Olympics, but moved the date forward because of the immediate need for help following the 7.9-magnitude quake, in which nearly 70,000 people were killed and approximately 5 million lost their homes.