BEIJING?Yao Ming, the Chinese giant who shone in the NBA and transformed his country into a big basketball fan, was reduced to a stammering mouse after his team?s disastrous fold-up against world champion Spain Tuesday.
He sounded remorseful in the post-disaster interview and looked it.
Yao had every reason to feel sorry, ashamed.
Tuesday night, he typified the China basketball team that started great and was ahead, 61-47, after the third quarter but wilted under pressure in the remaining crucial minutes.
Spain, whose coach blamed overconfidence for its shaky start, topped China in overtime, 85-75.
The loss for host China was totally unexpected and the huge crowd that again came in full force headed home sulking, many local citizens shaking their heads.
The aftershock of China?s second loss in the Olympic preliminaries must have been felt all the way to Ongpin in Manila?s Chinatown.
?We can?t help but feel bad, it had looked like a won game,? said Quian Liquiang, 22, a lean, bespectacled staffer in the Nine-headed Bird Restaurant here.
Of course, Yao was not the lone culprit.
There was his coach who over-emphasized and used practically all available options on the fading Yao in the crucial stretch, altogether overlooking Wang Zhizhi, who was doing wonders and was, in fact, making up for earlier team lapses with impeccable perimeter shooting.
There was also no clear adjustment after hard-pressing Spain had successfully jammed China?s single-option throw-in, from which the world champs would steal more than twice and score.
But, looking closely, Yao could?ve saved it for China if he had played as solidly as he did against the United States.
He did start strong but, in the crucial final quarter, Yao took himself too seriously and refused to issue the outlet pass after being choked around the paint.
Twice he refused to clear out and twice China lost possession which Spain readily converted into clean baskets.
Actually, China, looking superb in the first three quarters, had appeared headed for a monumental upset, but the host team inexplicably fell in fragments in a wild, disorganized wind-up typified by Yao?s indecisiveness.
Add to that the fact that Yao allowed himself to be outplayed by Pau Gasol, who frolicked and scored 29 points.
With China?s second successive defeat, the Chinese basketball fan has every reason to feel jilted.
It was Yao who made the vow that his national team would break barriers here and move into the medal round.
It?s also obvious half of the Beijing Olympics has been built around the magic of Yao Ming, whose Coke-drinking red figure welcomes visitors from the airport all the way to the Olympic Village.