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BEIJING - AUGUST 18: Yao Ming #13 of China moves against the defense of Sofoklis Schortsanitis #14 of Greece during the preliminaries at the Wukesong Indoor Stadium on Day 10 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 18, 2008 in Beijing, China. Australia won 106-75. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
On Thursday, an exhibition game in China was the scene of an intense brawl between Georgetown and their Chinese opponents. While the Hoyas do not have a history of bad behavior, in-game violence is a problem that the Chinese Basketball Association has faced for years.
In 2005, a brawl broke out in the final minutes of a game against Puerto Rico in Beijing after two Chinese players launched themselves off of the bench to go after the Puerto Rican players. The clash was spurred by a foul against current Wizards player Yi Jianlian, who was playing for Beijing at the time.
An account of that fight in the New York Times showed that while the players, including Yi, were at the center of the brawl, fans “hurled abuse along with drinks, plastic bottles, yogurt and popcorn at the Puerto Rican team as it left the court."
In 2007, the fans became the aggressors during a CBA game, hurling cups and bottles at the court after a questionable call. Coincidentally, Yi was on the roster for one of the teams involved, although not present at that particular game.
The trend continued later that year, when rowdy fans in Zhejiang attacked a visiting team bus and teams from Xinjiang and Shanxi were fined after their fans threw bottles and other objects onto the court. Min Lulei, then coach of the Beijing Ducks, told the AFP that this had become common fan behavior.
"This kind of thing is very normal. The CBA has been going on for some time, even the NBA which is older, still has this kind of problem," Min said at the time. "Even if we want to change this, we still won't be able to avoid this kind of problem."
Outside of the growing fan violence, the national team prepped for the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a goal of wanting to see its players become more physical.
Many people, including former NBA star Yao Ming, felt that Chinese “non-contact style prevalent in the China Basketball Association was producing players who were not tough enough for the international game.” The solution for the CBA: allow players to be more physical going into the 2008-09 season.
"After the Olympics, we realized that unless we strengthened our physical presence, Chinese basketball would not be able to compete with the world's best," CBA chief Liu Xiaonong said at the time.
Unfortunately, CBA fans missed that memo. According to ESPN, a record $140,500 (960,000 yuan) in fines were assessed during that first season under the new playing style, some of that imposed on teams for crowd trouble.
"Some [teams] have been punished for their misbehaving fans, who were outraged partly because they did not understand the new standards the referees must enforce," Liu explained of the fines. "The league has not done a good enough job in getting the message about physicality out."
But ultimately, hot-headed fans are not to blame for the CBA’s persistent problem with violence. The league seems to lack control over its own teams, uncharacteristic of a culture known for its strong discipline.
During a CBA finals game in April 2010, two players got into a tussle under the basket, ending with a head butt and punches thrown. The teams were fined, but the players were not suspended.
In October 2010, a fight broke out during an exhibition game between the Chinese national team and Brazil, which included Chinese players kicking and punching their opponents. According to a Wall Street Journal account, the game was called when the Chinese players attacked the Brazilians as they headed back to the visiting locker room. A number of players and coaches received fines and the team was temporarily suspended from training as a result of the fray, but no game suspensions were given by the CBA.
In December 2010, FIBA -- basketball’s world governing body -- decided to take matters into its own hands by suspending China’s national team coach and three players, as well as banning three of China’s referees for one year. There were no suspensions or fines placed on Brazil, making a clear statement as to which side was to blame for the rampage.
Although they have yet to issue one for Thursday's incident, the CBA has issued an apology for the behavior of its players after each of the past altercations.
But with violence entrenched in Chinese basketball and brutal assaults finding their way into friendly exhibitions, apologies don’t go very far.