Dave Rossman/WireImage
Sara Hammel
June 25, 2007 10:30 AM

Basketball star Yao Ming, the 7′ 6″ center for the Houston Rockets, will marry his girlfriend after eight years of dating, Chinese state press reported Monday.

Yao, 27, plans to marry Ye Li, 25, in a private ceremony – possibly in their home city of Shanghai, China, AFP reports.

The couple met as teenagers in 1999 when he was playing for the Shanghai Sharks men’s team, China’s Titan Sports Weekly said, according to AFP.

The 6′ 2″ Ye plays basketball for China’s national team, but has battled injuries in recent years.

Their relationship first became public at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where they were seen walking hand-in-hand at the closing ceremony.

According to Titan Sports, Ye has regularly visited Yao’s home in Texas and has also studied English at the University of Houston, AFP reports. Yao is expected to return to China in July to train and play on the national team in September.

The paper discounted rumors in the Chinese press that the wedding would be shown on live TV, with China’s Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Liu Xiang as the master of ceremonies, AFP reports.

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