China's pivot Yao Ming experienced the supremecy in the international basketball competitions when he heralded the Chinese team to a strong run at the world championships.
Thousands of Japanese and overseas fans packed for China's every game in Sapporo and in Saitama to cheer the Houston Rockets' center, one of the most successful Asian super stars in sports.
Hiroshima, where the host Japan was playing, and Sapporo received full-house spectators in the stadiums at the preliminary round though three of China's five matches were scheduled on 1:30 at noon.
Yao, who refused any Japanese sponsors because of the wars between China and Japan in history, spent no blink on his popularity in Japan, but gave out all he has to produce a determined and confident team from a couple of promising Chinese.
After a 0-3 start losing to Italy, the United States and Puerto Rico, China had two brave victories over Senegal and Slovenia to enter the knockout stage.
Yao led the tournament with 25.3 points per game, and is ranked fourth on rebounds (9) and second on blocks (2.3) per game.
China bounced out of the competition after a 95-64 loss to European champion Greece.
It was not the statistics that highlighted Yao's games in Japan, but his leadership and fighting spirit that set up him as one of the best super stars in the tournament.
He played the full 40-minute game, contributing 36 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, in China's crucial 78-77 win over Slovenia.
Guard Wang Shipeng beat the buzzer with the game-winning three-pointer to produce the most dramatic game in Chinese basketball history.
"We are improving after each game, and played more like a team." Yao said. "It's not about the ability and power, it's all about bravery and confidence."
Yao inspired his teammates to the higher level of their games without saying a word.
"I was the guy who practiced the hardest before the world championships. If someone who doesn't know me watches my practice, he might say, 'Is the big guy to be wiped off from the national squad?'"
"I don't say too much in the locker-room. I want to make good things happen with my performance, but not with my mouth. I'm glad to witness the ultimate change of the team's morale," Yao said.
Teammates agreed with Yao.
"I think this is a better team than that of the warm-ups. We fight every game and are eager to win. Yao gives us a lot of help on not to give up," said Zhu Fangyu.
"Yao is the guy who get most of the defense. All the others can do is to pass the ball to him and shooting the open shots. We're doing better on these things," said Wang Zhizhi, former Miami Heat's forward.
China failed to enter the last eight of the championships, but Yao is spearheading a promising team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.