Retired NBA superstar Yao Ming paid tribute to the Philippines’ efforts August 7 shortly after his native China won the hosting rights to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The former Houston Rockets center, who spoke as part of China’s pitch in the final presentation of the bids in Tokyo, Japan, said the Philippines’ bid pushed him and his colleagues to step up.

“We have to pay tribute to the Philippines delegation. They were great opponents. Only opponents like them could really push us to our limits to test how capable we are,” said Yao.

“Even if we were opponents on this occasion, we still have a friendship with them.”

The Philippines and China were the finalists to host FIBA’s flagship international basketball tournament.

China highlighted its experience in hosting top global sporting events including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, and the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics, as well as the large market of 1.3 billion people the country offers. Yao himself spoke about the impact of hosting the World Cup on the popularity of basketball in China.

The Philippines, meanwhile, touted its people’s passion for the game, as well as Filipinos’ proclivity for social media, with fans making the campaign’s hashtag #PUSO2019 a top trending topic worldwide during the presentation.

After the presentations, Yao was spotted talking to former Gilas Pilipinas team captain Jimmy Alapag, who was part of the Philippine delegation. Former Gilas coach Chot Reyes said on Twitter that Yao admitted that the Philippines had a better presentation.

But it was not enough to sway FIBA Central Committee members, who voted in favor of China, 14-7.

The committee leaned on preparedness, structure and facilities by China over the Philippines’ overwhelming passion and heart for the game, according to reports.

It will be the first time China will host the tournament, which will be a boon for the country’s basketball fans, said Yao.

“I know what it’s like to play a top level basketball tournament in front of home fans because I played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Having the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup will inspire a lot of people and particularly more young athletes to participate in basketball,” he said.