If it’s not Tracy McGrady, it’s Yao Ming. Sometimes it’s both. Usually it’s McGrady. But this time, with the Houston Rockets on a 12-game winning streak and Yao playing the best basketball of his career, it’s Yao. According to a terse Houston Chronicle report, Ming has a stress fracture in his left foot, and will be out for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Jonathan Feigen is slightly less terse on his Chronicle blog:

At a time the Rockets were going better than they have in a decade, not just winning games by the dozen but improving with more room to grow evident, the life was drained from the winning streak and the Rockets’ prospects.

This feels worse, though, than even that. No one so large has ever been asked to do what Yao has done for the Rockets. The previous giants were specialists. Those close in size that came close to his role – Arvydas Sabonis, Zydruynas Ilgauskas and Rik Smits – had foot and ankle problems that derailed their careers, but were able to eventually succeed. Bill Walton never was the same.

A stress fracture is far more foreboding than last season’s crack in his leg or the toe infection that required surgery. Those had the feel of fluke, the sort of things that happen. This seems more threatening.

We’ll know more when the doctors talk about his prognosis, but this feels dangerous.

It’s not quite that bad, Mr. Feigen. It’s very bad for the Rockets, who I think will indeed probably fall out of the playoffs in the super-competitive West. But I had a stress fracture as a cross-country runner back in high school, and I now lead a full, healthy life. Well, not full and not healthy. But unless Feigen is referring to the possibility of the Rockets signing ultra-stiff Jamaal Magloire (he’s available), I think “dangerous” is a bit of an overstatement.

UPDATE: The news itself hasn’t changed, but Henry Abbott, at TrueHoop, adds a bit of perspective not just in terms of what it means for big men to have bad feet, but about the international-relations dimension of Yao’s recovery and eventual return:

The relationship between the NBA, the Houston Rockets, and the Chinese government figures prominently in any and all matters Yao Ming. Even picking him first in the draft was not simple. Now, with Yao Ming slated to be the superstar showpiece of perhaps the most important sporting event in China’s recent history — the 2008 Beijing Olympics — there must be a hundred new ways these international relationships can be tested. With something this bad having happened, there will be blame to spread around, and future questions to work out. Will Yao Ming be ready to play in the Olympics? Whose decision will that be? Are the Rockets prepared to let the Chinese team make that call? And what about next season — now that China’s national basketball treasure has injured himself repeatedly Houston’s watch (he has also had a broken tibia) might there be concerns about his returning to the NBA at all?