|Yao Ming, former NBA basketball player and owner of the Shanghai Dongfang Sharks basketball team, greets children during the Sharks basketball clinic at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City on Sunday. Yao and his team are in Manila on a friendly visit. Photo by Cheryl Ravelo, Reuters
MANILA, Philippines – "Beat China."
This was the advice given by former NBA star Yao Ming to the Philippine national basketball team, Smart Gilas Pilipinas, seeking an end to the decades-long World Championship and Olympic drought.
Yao made the statement at the press conference on Philippines-China Friendship Games on Sunday at the Grand Ballroom of the Solaire Hotel and Casino near the Mall of Asia grounds in Pasay City.
The 7-foot-6 Yao, who played nine meaningful seasons with the Houston Rockets in the NBA, including the last few years where he was hobbled by various injuries, then withheld from giving more tips, saying it will end up spilling the beans to China's secret to success.
"I have to reconsider whether or not to give you this suggestion," said Yao, who was accompanied by a big group of Chinese delegation and host Philippine Sports Commission chair Richie Garcia.
As everyone knows, Yao saw action in three Olympics – 2000 in Sydney, Australia, 2004 in Athens, Greece and 2008 in Beijing, China – and one FIBA World Championship (2006 in Japan) for China, which already has seven Olympic appearances after topping the Asian Championship 15 times and the Asian Games on seven occasions.
Yao is in the country to join the Shanghai Sharks, a basketball club he owns, as they held clinics and play the Smart Gilas Sunday night at the MOA Arena and a PBA selection team on Monday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Philippines, which considers basketball as the national pastime, has never gone past the Asian level for decades now.
The last time the Filipinos made it to the World Championship was in 1978 when the country hosted it in Manila and finished a decent eighth of 14 teams while the last Olympic stint came six years before, in the 1972 Munich Games where they wound up 13th of 16 squads.
The nationals, who are coached by Chot Reyes, hope to end that long wait as they seek to at least finish in the top three of the FIBA-Asia Championship in order for them to barge into the 2014 FIBA Worlds in Spain.
The Philippines will host the tiff at the MOA Arena this August.
Interestingly, Yao and the Sharks will have a personal glimpse on the development of Gilas when the two teams collide on Monday.
"We fully respect our opponent. We are prepared," said Yao.