Basketbrawl VIII: Rockets Red Menace

An uncomfortable incident occurred on Chinese hardwood recently, and I’m not talking about the ping-pong trick.  A friendly between the Bayi Rockets of the Chinese professional basketball league and the Georgetown Hoyas erupted into a melee.  It is was much worse than the ‘Malice at the Palace’ in terms of punches landed and players attacking each other, and the same in terms of crowd reaction and on-court official reaction.  The event was covered in the news cycle, but seems to have been lost, possibly dropped behind the great firewall by those engaging bumblers at the Washington Post.

One month later, unanswered questions linger like the disappointed memories of a goodwill trip turned borderline international incident.  The most interesting pair are: When is the next goodwill tour of China by an NCAA basketball team (surely other sports are more civilized)?  What were the ramifications for the players and officials involved?

To begin answering the former question, we must acknowledge that the Bari Rockets are not just a team in the CBA, they are the team.  They feature first ever Chinese NBA player Wang Zhizhi, and they are the Yankees, the Man U, the Canadiens, of Chinese hoops.  They are also sponsored by the army, as in ‘Bayi’ refers to the army, rather than where they play.  This article contains an account of the full trip, including the incident, and in fact seems to be the most extensive account on the net, but it does not answer our question.  While it purports to deal with the question about future goodwill tours, it is written from the perspective of someone in the Georgetown delegation, writing in something called ‘the Diplomat,’ so the incentives are all pointing directly towards the conciliatory tone in which the author does not actually mention any players feelings about the event (bait-and-switching with the ‘overall trip’ and the reconciliation afterword to fake the impression that he has).

Those feelings, and the way they proliferate throughout the NCAA may affect the number of goodwill tours in the future.  Those who do not recognizing this may also not be realizing that as the exchange rate changes, and flight costs rise, destinations like South America, Eastern Europe or even Nigeria will become more attractive.  Those areas already offer more teams playing at an appropriate level, where Bayi are the Chinese hoops fans’ only hope for a victory over the visiting Americans.

The latter question, about the suspensions and fines which would have been assumed, delivered, and feverishly reported had it been an NBA altercation, is equally difficult to answer.  This article gives an interesting glimpse into the Chinese social and institutional reaction and method.  It does not, however, answer the question: did anybody get suspended?  Reports of Georgetown coach John Thompson being yelled at for unknown reasons, and even more so these two statements on the Georgetown website, suggest that the Hoya’s view the whole thing as some kind of inexplicable nightmare which is best simply forgotten.  The Chinese reaction may suggest that they view it the same way, but the lack of information allows any sort of wild speculation.

Time will answer the first question for us, but it may never be known if there was any punishment meted out to the Chinese players or not.  The punishment for the Hoyas involved, apparently, will be left at that delivered on the court during the incident itself.  In light, however, of any real news on the NBA labor front (unsubstantiated and obviously false Chris Sheridan rumors notwithstanding), why has there been so little in print about it?  Perhaps international politics, fistfights and basketball are not as exciting, even in combination, as Ron Artest’s name . . . nah!

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