Chinese fans cheer for basketball star Yi Jianlian during a group stage game against Nigeria on Sunday in the FIBA World Cup in Guangzhou, South China‘s Guangdong Province. Photo: IC

Dark clouds hung over Chinese basketball fans after the national team suffered a bitter defeat at home and was knocked off the stage of the FIBA World Cup on Sunday night.

But some remained hopeful and encouraged players to remember the bitterness and strive. 

The loss to Nigeria at 86-73 on Sunday dimmed China‘s prospects of entering the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, unless it can beat the likes of Slovenia and Russia in a tournament next year. Observers are concerned that China‘s basketball team could miss the Olympics for the first time in 36 years. 

The hashtag “2019 FIBA World Cup” has entered “the most searched phrase” list on China‘s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, with more than 1.6 billion views and 636,000 posts as of press time. Many netizens also commented on Hupu, a major sports online forum.  

“The players, except Yi Jianlian, don‘t deserve our consolation and sympathy. They did terribly and ruined our mood,” a netizen said on Weibo. 

Yi scored a game-high 27 points for China in Sunday‘s game. In the postgame interview, Yi said “I tried to play as if it was the last game in my career,” which Chinese fans applauded.  

Many fans also shouted “Li Nan out,” blaming the coach‘s poor tactics for the underperformance.

But Chinese Basketball Association president Yao Ming said he would take the blame for China‘s poor performance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

“The fans had great expectations for China at the World Cup, but we did not make it,” Yao Ming told media after the game. 

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Yao said the gap between China and the world‘s top basketball teams is widening. He said he is determined to pursue his reforms, including the professional league, youth academy and sports education. 

 “Yao erred by appointing Li Nan as the head coach. Li was a great player but the wrong coach,” Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sports commentator, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Wang praised Yao‘s reform measures after taking charge of the association in 2017, noting that changing the coach might be effective in the short run, but cultivating young talent is a long-term project.

“Move forward, or you will fall behind, that is the rule in sports,” Wang said.

He also noted that basketball in China has a greater chance of recovering due to a larger fan base and less administrative barriers compared to soccer. 

Su Qun, a senior basketball commentator, suggested on Weibo that China should arrange more exhibition games with European and Latin American teams, whose players are stronger.   

“Frost and winter came before flowers blossom… we are still waiting for the spring of China‘s basketball,” Su said on Weibo on Sunday. 

 “I have witnessed lots of defeats, but I always keep my faith in our basketball, especially when I think about previous heroes and legends, their highlights and touching moments. The pain is always inspiring, and I hope every player and basketball insider remembers the pain tonight,” Yang Yi, China Central Television basketball commentator, said after the Sunday game.  

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