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What if we got to see Rony Seikaly vs Yao Ming in FIBA Asia Cup 2001?
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - China rampaged through FIBA Asia Cup 2001. They had already exerted their dominance at the previous edition in 1999 and even then they were able to meet the lofty expectations set in 2001.
While China deserved the title that year, was there a missing piece from that tournament that could have made things interesting - especially in the championship game?
What if Rony Seikaly had played for Lebanon in the Asia Cup that year? How would the potential Yao-Rony clash in the Lebanon-China game would've gone?
China at it's Best
Before we discuss the hypothetical, it must be noted that China were heavy favorites by a large margin in the FIBA Asia Cup 2001. Aside from Yao Ming (13.5 points per game) who was set to make his tournament debut, China also had Wang Zhizhi (13.8 points per game) who had already made it to the NBA and Mengke Bateer (9.0 points per game) who would also join the NBA shortly after.
The three seven-footers formed a frontcourt that was sometimes fittingly referred to as “The Great Wall of China”, but China’s strength was not limited to their post players. Forwards Li Nan (11.9 points per game) and Hu Wei Dong (11.8 points per game) also brought the firepower on their way to another Asian title.
Even though no one on this China team averaged more than 14 points per contest, four players averaged double-digit scoring while more than half of the team averaged more than 8 points per game.
The FIBA Asia Cup 2001 was somewhat close to China being at the peak of their powers, making them the runaway favorites to win it all. True to form, they beat all of their opponents by a whopping 41.4 points per game to properly claim their second straight continental title.
The Title Contender
The championship contender in 2001, Lebanon, didn’t cruise through to the Final like their counterpart.
They barely scraped through UAE in the opening game. They were comprehensively beaten by Korea in the immediate game after that by 18 points. Two games later, they were beaten again by China, 87-76.
Lebanon’s terrific trio of Fadi El Khatib, Rony Fahed, and Joseph Vogel didn’t let that early slide hold them back. Lebanon stormed back all the way to an impressive revenge win over Korea in the Semi-Finals.
However, there wasn’t enough steam left in the tank for Lebanon as they swallowed a 97-63 loss in the title game against almighty Chinese.
… but what if Lebanon had another big-time contributor on the team?
What if Lebanon had another star, like say Rony Seikaly, on their team for Asia Cup 2001?
Seikaly is, of course, known for starring in the NBA during the 90s for teams including the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic. Throughout his NBA career, Seikaly averaged a solid 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
The 2.08M (6’10”) center was born in Beirut and had already come close to playing for Lebanon at the FIBA Asia Cup. He had even already played for the national team at the WABA Championship in 1999 and displayed how much of a force he could have been.
Even though injuries had already slowed Seikaly down and forced him out of the NBA by the time of the Asia Cup 2001, but he was still highly serviceable even at the age of 35. This was evident by his short stint playing for FC Barcelona Basket in Spain during the 2000-2001 season, where he put up solid numbers once again.
Therefore, it is not tough to imagine that Seikaly would have greatly helped Team Cedars through their Asia Cup 2001 campaign. Even before considering the Lebanon-China title game matchup, Seikaly would have probably been able to give El-Khatib and Vogel some time to rest and take a breather during the competition. Then at the potential title game, who better to help hold off China’s three NBA-level big men than a legit big man in Seikaly himself?
How big of a moment and how fun would it have been for FIBA Asia Cup fans to see the head-to-head encounter between Yao and Seikaly in the championship game?
This is not to say that Seikaly would have shifted the scales to make Lebanon the favorites to win it all, especially considering how strong the Chinese were at the time. However, it’s still a fun situation to ponder about and would have definitely been something worth watching without a doubt.