BEIJING (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019) - The anticipation is building in the Far East as China prepares to host the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, with Sunday marking 1,000 days until the start of the tournament.
Someone that knows what playing at a World Cup is all about is Yao Ming, the greatest China player of all time. He featured at the event 14 years ago in Indianapolis, when it was a 16-team tournament, and at the 2006 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Japan.
A member of the 2016 induction class to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Yao was on Sunday unveiled as the first ambassador for FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. He later spoke about the opportunity.
Yao Ming: I feel very excited. It's definitely not the first time that I've been named ambassador of something but when the name is related to basketball, I always feel motivated by that and I hope that I can meet everyone's expectations in the next 100 plus days.
FIBA.com: This will be the first the time that China host FIBA’s biggest event. Can you offer some insight as to how important basketball is to the Chinese people and to the country in general?
Yao Ming: Basketball has such great fans here in China. Our national team and our CBA league and the international leagues overseas are very well known here and (the sport) has a billion fans in the country and they have an opportunity to see those superstars from overseas in China in the same place, in the same arena - it's a one-time experience in my life and for many fans.
FIBA.com: Look to the future 2019 in China. So what do you think will stand out in the competition and make this one the best of all?
Yao: The World Cup always attracts the elite players to compete and at the end of the day, only the best team and best players can hold that cup. I just hope the best team wins and the fans will enjoy the whole process.
FIBA.com: You played at two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006. Can you look back at those experiences and share some of your memories with us?
Yao: The good ones? Nothing can compare to the game against Slovenia in 2006 (in Japan) when we beat our opponents with a shot at the buzzer from Wang Shipeng, that unbelievable 3. That is what amazed us. (The victory lifted China into the Round of 16). Whether we were the winner or the loser, we would have walked away from that believing that a basketball game is worth something fighting for.
Yao: Basketball has always been a global game since it was born over 120 years ago, from the first day. And China is among the first group of countries to adopt basketball since then. The 32 teams, obviously the competition will be much more competitive than one decade ago. There will be more representatives from Europe, from Africa, from Asia team, too, and more opportunities for more elite players to compete in their dream and I’m looking forward to seeing it.