BEIJING, China — Basketball legend Yao Ming said he blamed himself for host nation China’s poor performances in the FIBA Basketball World Cup after their latest chastening defeat on Sunday.
Their 86-73 loss to Nigeria in the classification round for teams outside the Top 16 means China failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics directly from the World Cup, just days after the shock of crashing out at the group stage.
The popular former NBA star became president of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2017 pledging to reform a state development system he said was badly in need of an overhaul, raising hopes of a resurgence in China’s most popular sport.
But the hosts failed to qualify for the Last 16 after losing to Poland and Venezuela before the reverse against the Africans in Guangzhou.
Asked in a press conference after the Nigeria game as to who will take responsibility for China’s poor performance, a grim-faced Yao responded “Me”, before walking away.
Former Houston Rockets All-Star Yao led China to some of their best results in global competitions, fueled basketball’s popularity in China and raised expectations of a strong run at their home World Cup.
“It is me who disappointed the fans,” NBA Hall-of-Famer Yao said after the game.
“The fans had great expectation for China at the World Cup, but we could not make it,” he added.
“(The World Cup) is a window for us to look out the world. The gap between China and the world-leading basketball countries has been enlarged.”
Reigning champion United States marches to the quarterfinals after beating Greece in Shenzhen.