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Yao defends Chinese cagers

ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE YAO Ming defends the Chinese national basketball team from criticisms brought by its sorry setback in the 19th Asian Games.

BEIJING, China (AFP) — Chinese basketball great Yao Ming said that criticism of the men’s national team has gone too far after some players were abused online following a series of disappointing results.

Basketball is hugely popular in China, but the team has consistently failed to live up to high expectations, with the latest letdown a loss to the Philippines in the semifinals of the Asian Games on home soil last month.

China beat Taiwan to win bronze but the campaign was regarded as a failure and came weeks after they finished 29th of 32 teams at the World Cup, missing out on next year’s Paris Olympics.

Fan anger has failed to dissipate, and national players have been targeted online in recent weeks, including Zhang Zhenlin of Liaoning Flying Leopards.

“Here I represent the association to make a statement,” Yao, an eight-time National Basketball Association All-Star and now president of the Chinese Basketball Association, said Thursday at a Chinese basketball Hall of Fame event in Beijing.

“No matter if we play well or badly on the basketball court, we will face up to the result,” state media quoted him as saying.”

“Some criticism on technique and tactics is welcome, but some things have gone beyond basketball and we don’t agree with that.”

“We will always support our players to defend their rights and interests, and in this regard (online abuse), we will provide all the necessary support.”

Following the 77-76 defeat to the Philippines — who went on to win the Asian Games gold medal in Hangzhou — fed-up Chinese fans piled in online to berate and mock their team.

“Watching you play basketball is a form of pain, isn’t it?” one popular meme asked.

The 43-year-old Yao had labeled the China players “slackers” and warned there was a “huge gap” between them and the world’s best teams.

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