The best result for the Chinese men's national basketball team occurred in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The best Chinese basketball player ever, the freak of nature Yao Ming, led the team to the knockout rounds, where they promptly lost to Lithuania, 94-68. That was Yao's last game suiting up for the national team.
China has only won one single game at the elite level of international basketball - either in the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup - since Yao's retirement.
That victory was achieved way back in the 2010 FIBA World Championship (they didn't call it the World Cup back then) held in Turkey. In that contest, China defeated the Ivory Coast team, 83-73.
So hopes were high when the China men's team opened up this year's FIBA World Cup against Ivory Coast in Beijing. Those hopes just came to fruition in a 70-55 win to satisfy a whole nation of hungry basketball fans.
I watched the game on Tencent Sports. There were 20 million people watching that stream and likely hundreds of millions watching the CCTV-5 feed on the national sports TV channel. China loves its basketball.
With some monster games from their three best players, China easily handled this one pulling away with conviction in the 2nd half. Guo Ailun, the first Jordan Brand talent in Asia and by far the best player on the team, had a monster game of 17 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals while shooting 50% from the floor.
Yi Jianlian, Yao's heir apparent who never quite lived up to the hype but ended up having a stellar domestic career (5 championships, 4 MVPs) once he gave up on his NBA dream, also played well netting 19 points and 8 boards. His veteran leadership really allowed the team to pull away in the 4th quarter.
Zhou Qi, who had a couple cups of coffee with the Houston Rockets a few years ago, looked pretty good as well, granted it was against one of the few teams in this World Cup that does not field any NBA talent. He earned 12 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and 2 pretty impressive blocks. Plus, this emphatic dunk clinched the game.
It will be quite exciting for China to get to see this much quality basketball in prime time for 2 weeks straight. I think the world is going to be astounded by the viewership of this World Cup.
Next up for China is Poland, who won their opener today against Venezuela 80-69, in two days on September 2 also in Beijing. Poland should be a much tougher opponent for them, but also it is another winnable game especially with home court advantage and the confidence gained from this game.