The Skeptics

If This Was a “Friendly,” I’d Hate to See an “Adversarial”

So the news of the day in China-watching circles is the bench-clearing brawl that erupted at an exhibition basketball match between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Bayi Rockets in Beijing, one day after Vice President Biden watched a Georgetown exhibition with a different Chinese team while on a visit there.

As the Washington Post’s Gene Wang reports here, the Georgetown fans were urging the Chinese police to restore order, but they declined. Wang also reports that the Georgetown coach ordered his team off the court, at which point the Chinese fans began jeering and pelting them with full water bottles. The Hoyas then gathered their equipment from the locker room and “made a beeline for their buses.”

I didn’t want to read too much into this—I’ve long thought Pat Buchanan’s commentaries on the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry were hilariously funny—but one snippet from the Washington Post’s account caught my attention:

Bayi is a military team in the Chinese Basketball Association whose players serve in the Chinese army.

Now that is an interesting little detail. Needless to say, everyone seems to be trying to smooth over the controversy, with (well-connected) Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai telling the press that Bayi players went to Beijing airport to see off the Hoyas, with both sides exchanging “souvenirs.” Cui reportedly remarked that “my understanding is that it’s all cleared up.”

One wonders. One also wonders about the pattern of events. While brawls at Chinese basketball matches are far more common than they are at matches in the U.S., during the January visit by then-SecDef Robert Gates, the Chinese military unveiled a new fighter jet—unannounced, apparently, to both Gates and the Chinese civilian leadership with whom he was meeting.

Two data points do not make a trend, but it may be interesting to watch whether the Bayi players involved in the fracas are reprimanded. Or rewarded.

This being the internet, you can of course watch it for yourself and see what you think: