China’s men’s basketball team avoided the fate of the country’s much-maligned football team by winning the FIBA Asia Championship, which qualifies them for the 2012 Olympics in London.
After beating Jordan 70-69, China now has nearly a year to prepare for the Olympics — a loss against Jordan would have sent them to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament next July to compete for the three remaining spots with 11 other teams including Puerto Rico, Angola and Asian runner-up Jordan.
The team’s undefeated performance in Wuhan was in stark contrast to its winless showing in a test event in London this summer. There, China showed it has a lot of work to do to compete with the best in the West, with losses to Australia, Serbia, France, Britain and Croatia.
Yi Jianlian proved once again that, despite a lackluster NBA career so far, he can make a huge impact for China in international play. He was the tournament MVP and notched 25 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in the final — and he made the crucial free throw that gave China the 70-69 win over Jordan in the gold medal game. No doubt once the NBA is back in business, Yi’s FIBA performance will catch the eye of the next poor owner to get excited about the “23”-year-old’s “upside.”
Asian Championships were the best remaining chance for China to qualify for London, and mainland fans were fully aware. According to FIBA, China’s semifinal against Korea beat out the French Open women’s final to become the year’s most-watched sporting event on CCTV-5, with 81 million people tuning in. The game peaked at 35 million viewers —compare that to a peak of 30.5 million watching NBC’s broadcast of the NFL season opener, a rematch between last season’s Super Bowl contenders.
For more on the highlights of the tournament, check out this report from Jon Pastuszek at Niubball, written just before the quarterfinals. He’s got some Wang Zhizhi highlights, brief analysis of Yao’s color commentary, and the goods on some of the tournament’s politics, including the Koreans’ complaints about practice time and Qatar’s “We’re-all-fouling-out-so-there” protest of a FIBA ruling.
Image of Chinese men’s national basketball team: Sina.comp=2#
Tags: 2012 Olympics, basketball, Wuhan, Yi Jianlian