Rio de Janerio: There are some 300 million people playing basketball in China, almost the entire population of the United States, but for the second consecutive Olympics the Chinese men's squad could not win a single game.
The situation is not much better in the women's bracket where China also made an early exit from the Rio Games, their only success a win over Senegal, who at number 24 are the lowest ranked team in the competition.
The U.S. National Basketball Association and sportswear companies have invested decades and millions of dollars to develop a culture that is flourishing at the grassroots but it continues to produce few dividends at elite level.
"We need to upgrade our individual skills," China men's coach Gong Luming told Reuters after watching his team exit the Rio tournament on Sunday with a fifth straight loss.
"Just look at three point field goals.
"Why can all the top players perform it reliably, but our players behave like they're eating dumplings at Chinese New Year?
"One day we can and the next day we can't, on the whole we're unstable."
Not since Yao Ming, who played nine seasons in the NBA and was considered responsible for jump-starting China's passion for basketball, has the country of 1.37 billion produced an elite level player.
Since Yao was taken number one overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2002 NBA draft there has been a steady trickle of players coming to play in the United States but not the expected flood.
Two Chinese players were selected in this year's draft, Zhou Qi going 43rd by the Rockets and Wang Zhelin 57th by the Memphis Grizzlies.
"They have a lot of young players, they are getting better," said U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski after a 119-62 win over China in their Rio opener.
Krzyzewski singled out Zhou as having the potential for a successful career in the NBA.
"He has all the skills necessary. He's friendly with the ball, 7-feet tall, he can shoot," added Krzyzewski.
"We see him in exhibition games getting better, he's going to be a very good basketball player."
Boots on the ground
Decades ago, the NBA launched a campaign to expand globally with the aim of rivalling soccer as the world's most popular sport and making the NBA a flagship destination for basketball players and fans.
China is now the NBA's biggest and most important foreign market and this year NBA China and China's Ministry of Education announced an extension of their partnership to incorporate fitness and basketball development in elementary, middle and high schools across the country.
U.S. sportswear and footwear companies have provided the boots on the ground, with Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Under Armour leading the charge into China's vast markets.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry have provided the marketing muscle for the footwear giants on which the NBA has piggy backed.
The NBA regularly plays games in China, with the Rockets and the New Orleans Pelicans scheduled to meet in preseason contests in Shanghai and Beijing in 2016.
Game Seven of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors was the most-viewed NBA game ever in China on digital, with more than 15.3 million unique viewers.
The Chinese Basketball Association has said 300 million people now play the game there, creating a huge talent pool from which to draw, but there are no guarantees of greatness.
Speaking at a media round table in Shanghai last year, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he could not just snap his fingers and make Chine players appear in the NBA.
"Great basketball players are developed the same way great business people are developed - through hard work," he said.
China men's coach Gong said it was imperative for everyone to be on the same page if they were to improve.
"When we look at the landscape now we think, 'Oh there aren't any talents,'" said Gong. "If you talk about change, the question is how to change.
"It doesn't mean that it'll get better once you change, and if you don't change who knows if it might improve eventually.
"What's crucial now is, how are we going to learn and discover the path that Chinese basketball should take?
"Should we go the way of the United States, or learn from Europe?
But at the end of the day if we don't take a united stance towards our situation it won't work."