IF there was a silver lining for Asi Taulava in the Philippines’ loss to China in the bid for the hosting rights of the 2019 Fiba World Cup, it was former NBA star Yao Ming still vividly remembering him and even asking for a souvenir of his playing jersey.
Twitter was abuzz on Friday night about the 7-foot-6 Yao, who served as part of the Chinese delegation in its bid presentation, talking to former Gilas Pilipinas skipper Jimmy Alapag, who related to the shocked center how the 42-year-old Taulava was still playing pro ball in the Philippines.
Taulava and Yao played against each other in the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
“I’m pretty humbled,” said the national team slotman, who was 29-years-old back during the Asiad 13 years ago. “I guess I must’ve left a pretty good impression on him.”
Taulava cherishes his matchup with the future Houston Rockets stalwart that he has as framed portrait of him taking a hook against Yao on one of the walls on the second floor of his Pasig home.
“It was the only shot I made, because the next five he blocked,” Taulava recounted. “I was looking at coach Jong (Uichico) and I was like, ‘take me out of the game’. But it was a fun, a great experience.”
Thirteen years later, Yao still remembers him.
“When I saw the tweet, I almost collapsed,” the NLEX center admitted. “Yao wanted a jersey from an old man? I’m just lost for words. When someone gives you a compliment like that, what can you say? You just be at awe about it.”
Of course, he wants something equivalent in return.
“As a tradeoff, I’ll give him one of my Philippine jerseys and I hope I can get one of his Chinese national team jerseys,” Taulava said.
“He’s a great guy. You can’t say much about him,” the affable big man added of Yao. “He’s a big figure in China and in the NBA.”
Taulava congratulated Yao and China for winning the bid.
"They deserve it," he said. "You don’t want to be bitter about it. I just wish them the best of luck."
"But at the same time, us, as a national team, we should use that as a motivation, use that to strengthen us going into the Fiba Asia," the evergreen cager was quick to add. "We should go there and kick their ass and bring home the medal."