By Andrew McNicol, CNN
(CNN) — US-born basketball player Kyle Anderson will represent China at next month’s FIBA World Cup after obtaining Chinese nationality, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) announced on Monday.
The Minnesota Timberwolves forward, 29, whose Chinese name is Li Kaier, was eligible for Chinese citizenship through his maternal great-grandfather.
“Welcome Anderson! Li Kaier obtained Chinese nationality this morning and met with Yao Ming, chairman of the (CBA),” the country’s basketball governing body posted on social media platform Weibo, alongside a photo of Anderson with NBA legend Yao.
Anderson is China’s first naturalized basketball player and his addition to the national team roster is considered a huge coup.
Anderson confirmed the news in a video posted to his official Weibo account.
“Hello fans in China, this is Li Kaier, I am so happy to announce that I will be representing China in the World Cup. Really proud and honored to wear the Team China jersey,” he said.
It is unclear whether 6-foot-9-inch (2.06 meters) Anderson had to renounce his US passport in the process. China does not recognize dual nationality.
While a first in basketball, China has acquired a handful of elite athletes with and without Chinese roots through naturalization.
Most notable is US-born freestyle ski sensation Eileen Gu, who won two golds and a silver for China at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Her mother is a first-generation Chinese immigrant.
Gu announced her “incredibly tough decision” to switch from Team USA to China in 2019. She has never publicly shared whether she has renounced her US passport, but eyebrows were raised when she applied for the US Presidential Scholars Program in 2021 – an initiative only open to US citizens or permanent residents.
Gu has dodged questions regarding her citizenship.
“When I’m in China, I’m Chinese. When I’m in the US, I’m American,” she has previously said.
The Chinese government likewise treads carefully around questions on Gu’s nationality and the issue of dual nationality among star athletes remains controversial.
Other naturalized Chinese athletes include Canada-born heptathlete Nina Schultz – also known as Zheng Ninali. She became China’s first naturalized Olympic athlete at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
China’s Beijing 2022 men’s ice hockey team’s 25-man roster famously included only six homegrown players, while a handful of naturalized soccer stars play in the Chinese Super League.
Anderson, who was born in Fairview, New Jersey, averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game with the Timberwolves last season.
The 2023 FIBA World Cup begins August 25, joint-hosted by the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. China faces Serbia in their opening game on August 26.
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Berry Wang contributed to this report.