American-born forward Kyle Anderson has completed a naturalization procedure and has acquired Chinese citizenship to be eligible to play for his mother's home country on the international stage. （Photo provided to China Daily）
Player: Anderson to debut for China in Shenzhen
It's official! There will be a Chinese player again in the NBA lineup in the next season.
With his naturalization process completed, US-born basketball player Kyle Anderson is now a Chinese citizen who is eligible to represent his adopted country on the international stage.
The Chinese Basketball Association confirmed the much-anticipated news on its official Weibo account on Monday morning, about 24 hours after Anderson, now known as "Li Kaier" in China, landed in Shanghai to wrap up the legal process.
"With the effort and support of all parties involved, Li Kaier has obtained his Chinese citizenship and has met CBA president Yao Ming," the association said in the statement.
"We appreciate all the help and support, especially from Li Kaier's family, for making this happen. Thanks for the attention and concern from fans and media," said the statement, posted with a group photo of a smiling Anderson, his mother Suzanne and CBA chief Yao Ming.
Born in New Jersey and drafted as a first-round pick by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, Anderson averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 69 games in the 2022-23 season for Minnesota Timberwolves as a playmaking forward in his ninth NBA season.
Anderson became an eligible candidate for CBA's overseas talent search due to his family lineage. His mother's grandfather was Chinese.
The versatile forward has amassed a huge fan following in China, which is the NBA's biggest overseas market, ever since the CBA confirmed its intentions to bring him onboard in April.
"Hello, fans in China, this is Li Kaier. I am so happy to announce that I will be representing China in the World Cup," Anderson said in a video posted on his Weibo account on Monday.
"I am really proud and honored to wear the Team China jersey. … I will check and update my Weibo often. Thank you everyone! Much love!"
Now legally a Chinese, Anderson's eligibility to represent Team China remains subject to final approval by basketball's international governing body FIBA. According to rules, each national team can include only one naturalized player in its 12-man roster in any official international game.
The 6-foot-9-inch (2.06-meter) power forward is expected to significantly boost Team China's prospect at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, where the highest-ranked Asian team will directly qualify for next year's Paris Olympics.
After failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, due to a poor 2019 World Cup campaign at home, the Chinese men's squad cannot afford to miss out on the sport's biggest stage for two editions in a row, thus pushing the CBA leadership to search for talent overseas, despite the fact that naturalization of athletes remains a controversial topic in China's sporting community.
Before Anderson, a glittering cast of athletes boasting Chinese heritage have opted to suit up for China internationally, including Olympic champion freestyle skier Gu Ailing, Canadian-born ice hockey player Brandon Yip, aka Ye Jinguang, and, most recently, Hungarian-born short-track speed skating brothers Shaolin Sandor Liu and Shaoang Liu.
If all goes according to plan, Anderson will soon fly to Slovenia to join the Chinese men's team at its European training camp.
Team China's head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic, who met Anderson in Shanghai on June 28, said he expected a big contribution from the NBA star.
"I hope that we will finish that," Djordjevic said earlier this month before Team China left for Europe. "He is a very valuable player and a very valuable person who has a lot of desire to be (with us). All of us appreciate that."
Team China will start its 2023 World Cup campaign in Manila on Aug 26 with a match against its first Group B opponent Serbia at the Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines capital, with two more games against South Sudan and Puerto Rico slotted after that.
Anderson is expected to make his Chinese national debut at a warm-up tournament for the World Cup, the "International Solidarity Cup" in August in Shenzhen, the home city of his mother's Chinese family in South China's Guangdong province.
In 2018, Anderson and his mother Suzanne visited Xinmu new village in the southern metropolis Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to explore his mother's family roots. Their long-lost Chinese relatives welcomed them with a firecracker display, traditional cultural experiences and a huge banquet.
In a video footage of the trip, Anderson described it as "one of the best times and moments" of his life. "It's weird to come to a place I've never been before, yet feel at home. I can't explain in words. … I am so thankful and honored that these people would accept me and give such a warm welcome," he told Shenzhen TV at the time.