Millions of Chinese basketball fans were heartbroken as China lost a crucial World Cup game against Nigeria on Sept 8. With the loss, China was eliminated from the 2019 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup. It also lost a chance for an automatic berth at next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
The loss was all the more tragic for fans of 31-year-old veteran Yi Jianlian. This was very likely the last World Cup appearance for the four-time Olympian and former NBA player. Sina Weibo started a hashtag that translates, “Feel sorry for Yi Jianlian.”
As captain of the Chinese men’s national basketball team, Yi aimed high before the international basketball competition kicked off. “Eleven years ago we hosted the Beijing Olympics, and now we are hosting the FIBA World Cup,” he told China Daily. “It’s a rare opportunity for all of us. You can feel the special duty when you see the national flag on your chest. It’s very meaningful for the national team and for me to play in the World Cup in front of a home crowd.”
With this patriotism in mind, Yi battled ankle pain and carried the team on his shoulders. He did everything he could against Nigeria, leading all scorers with 27 points.
“Yi exhausted all his energy again and again to pull his team back from the edge of the crash. Even though the team failed regrettably in the end, Yi’s struggle undoubtedly touched all the fans,” JQKNews.com commented.
Minutes before the game ended, Yi’s ball was intercepted and the team’s failure was sealed. He punched the ground and roared with frustration. Afterward, the veteran admitted that it was hard to accept the result. “[But] we cannot give up because of the loss tonight. We still need to work hard and hold our heads up high in future competitions,” Yi said.
It’s still up in the air whether Yi could play in a fifth Olympic tournament next year. Either way, he’ll surely be considered one of Chinese basketball’s all-time greats.