By sportswriter Su Bin
BEIJING, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- After Shenzhen Aviators center Shen Zijie hit a buzzer-beating layup from Gu Quan's full-court pass, he celebrated wildly, leaving the home fans roaring in excitement and relief.
In this season's Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Shen's shot in the November 24 match against Xinjiang Flying Tigers is far from the only last-gasp winner, with Zhu Yanxi, He Xining, Jeremy Lin and Joseph Young also making the "killer" list. Statistics show that over ten matches this season have been decided at the death.
With an increasing number of matches being decided in the final seconds, there is a growing feeling that CBA games are becoming more eye-catching and appealing.
Now in its 25th year, the CBA has sought to modernize by improving operations, brand development and promotions, aiming at offering a better fan experience.
Fierce on-court competition also gives fans more reasons to swarm into venues or watch the games on television, with 12.65 million people tuning into this season's curtain-raiser between the Guangdong Southeast Tigers and the Liaoning Flying Leopards.
The CBA is also seeking to expand its new media offerings, with 33 percent more people watching the Guangdong and Liaoning game online than had watched the corresponding fixture 12 months earlier.
However, while the CBA continues to go from strength to strength, the same cannot be said of the Chinese national team, whose underperformance at the 2019 FIBA World Cup on home court means the country is yet to qualify directly for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Though expectations were high after the tournament draw and a win in the opening game against Cote d'Ivoire, China then lost to Poland and Venezuela, missing out on qualification for the competition's last 16.
"Me!" CBA president Yao Ming pulled no punches when responding to a reporter's question of who was to blame for China's poor tournament performance.
Following defeat to Nigeria in the classification round, China's hope of securing an Olympic berth seemed even more distant. The country will now take on Greece, Canada, Uruguay, the Czech Republic and Turkey in a qualifying tournament next June, with just one Olympic spot up for grabs.
However, China's women can expect a better chance of reaching the Olympics. China face off against South Korea, Britain and Spain in a round of qualifiers next February, with the top three teams qualifying for the tournament.
Hopes of success also came from the 3x3 division. China's women made history by winning the category's first ever World Cup back in June. Both men's and women's 3x3 teams have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
The country is also looking to improve the state of its grassroots basketball, with the launch of the China Basketball Open in September.
Mini basketball, a miniature version of the sport aimed at children under 12 years old, has enjoyed increasing popularity in 2019, with 180,000 people playing it, up from 100,000 one year previously.
As the year draws to a close, Chinese basketball bids farewell to Ji Zhe, a player who spent the entirety of his CBA career with the Beijing Ducks.
The former Beijing captain died of a lung cancer on December 5. Fans paid their respects in different ways at various locations across the country.
Ji's love for basketball will linger on, motivating his former companions to move forward and contribute to the growth of Chinese basketball.