Georgetown Basketball Brawl With Chinese Men’s Team (video)


A goodwill basketball game between the Georgetown University Hoyas and a Chinese team, the Bayi Rockets, ended in a fierce, chair-and-water-bottle tossing brawl, on Thursday night. The game had been timed to coincide with Vice President Joe Biden’s state visit; Biden had watched the Hoyas play an earlier (and uneventful) game with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons. The Hoyas are at the start of a 10-day trip that the State Department has been billing as an “example of sports diplomacy that strengthens ties between the two countries’ peoples,” says the New York Times. The Bayi rockets are China’s most popular team.

Given the recent tensions over economic and other issues between China and the US, one can’t help seeing the on-court fight as a sign of how the two countries are really feeling about each other, for all the public statements of politicians: Just today, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao sounded a “confident note” about the US economy.


The Los Angeles Times gives this description of the Hoyas-Bayi Rockets fight:

Early in the game, the atmosphere turned tense when Bayi forward Xu Zhonghao yelled at [Georgetown coach John Thompson III] in English, “How can you let your players play like that?” Then, after Georgetown guard Jason Clark objected to a hard foul by another Bayi player, Hu Ke, the benches emptied and fights erupted across the court. Fans jumped into the action.

The video captured an unidentified Chinese man in a white polo shirt and khaki shorts stomping a Georgetown player on the floor. Gene Wang of the Washington Post, one of the few foreign reporters in attendance, wrote that one fan grabbed a stanchion, while an unidentified player pushed Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen through a partition, then repeatedly punched him while sitting on his chest.

The Georgetown coach pulled his players off the court, ending the game with 9 minutes 32 seconds left and the score tied, 64-64.

At least in the videos, there was no evidence that Chinese officials tried to restrain their players, several of whom were captured on the footage wielding chairs in midthrow.

An American expatriate who lives in Beijing, Sarah Burton, said that Chinese spectators threw trash and whatever they could find and that security “wearing ill-fitting uniforms, came in late and pretended to help, but stood in the doorway and did nothing.”

Thompson issued a statement after the game:

“Tonight, two great teams played a very competitive game that unfortunately ended after heated exchanges with both teams. We sincerely regret that this situation occurred. We remain grateful for the opportunity our student-athletes are having to engage in a sport they love here in China, while strengthening their understanding of a nation we respect and admire at Georgetown University.’’

Thompson’s statement that the game “strengthen[ed] their understanding of a nation” might say more than meets the eye. The Bayi Rockets team is owned by the Chinese military and the training, supervision and surveillance of athletes in China is rigorously scrutinized by the government, as the New York Times reports. Athletes like Li Na, who won this year’s French Open, are expected to contribute 65 percent of their earnings to the Chinese government; Li will only pay 12 percent, after declining a “plum government job” and $92,000 prize from the provincial Hubei government. NBA star Yao Ming has had to give as much as 8 percent of his lifetime earnings to the Chinese government. China has some 20,000 elite athletes in its training system year-round, says the Washington Post, which also notes that “sports in China are an essential expression of governmental ambition and prestige.”

But athletes pay a harsh price in addition to give a percentage of their earnings to the Chinese government, who insists that such is required to pay back for years of training and support:

… [Elite athletes'] ascendancy begins in grade schools, where students are subject to corporal punishment from coaches, and those who don’t reach the required physical standards aren’t allowed to go on to higher schools. One western correspondent in Beijing, Simon Tisdall of The Guardian, characterizes China’s sports machine as a “culture of pride and aggressively nationalistic assertiveness.”

The New York Times points out that, for some athletes, “… the Olympic rings become shackles that bind them for years in indentured servitude to a government that frequently neglects their scholastic education and ignores their injuries while taking a sizable cut of their earnings, all in the name of national pride.” Some 240,000 retired athletes suffer from injuries, poverty and unemployment including gold-medal gymnast Zhang Shangwu, who was found begging on a Beijing street last month.

Selected at age 5 by the Hebei provincial government, Zhang won two gold medals before he injured his Achilles’ tendon during practice in 2002. He was forced by his coach to continue training. Sports officials then denied his request to study academic subjects and finally parted ways with him in 2005 with a pension of 38,000 renminbi, or $4,750, he said. “It was barely enough for food and the clothes on my back,” he told The Beijing News. Unskilled and unable to work because of his injury, he sold his medals for the equivalent of $13 and then was caught stealing. After being released from prison, he turned to panhandling.

On hearing of his plight, a billionaire Chinese entrepreneur has offered him a position as a personal trainer. But Zhang’s must not be the only story to end with such a fall from Olympic glory to panhandling in China’s capital.

After Thursday’s Hoyas-Rockets fight, Chinese fans themselves have responded with dismay about their team’s behavior, says the New York Times:

“Does the Bayi team think they are better at Chinese kungfu than basketball and that is why they are desperate to show it off,” said a Sina Weibo user named JF1113.

“I just don’t get it that China is fighting other people all the time. And they lose the games too,” said another user named QimaDdou.

Another, nego_lu, called players in China “poorly educated.”

Noting that every sports game in China is “politically loaded,” the Washington Post comments, “we will wonder if the fight exposed more than just a simmering rivalry between ballplayers.”


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Photo of Georgetown playing Tulane by Tulane Public Relations

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Tammy D.
Tammy D.4 years ago

it's sad of course, but it's still pretty freaking hilarious. A nation of little emperors. Unfortunately, this is not really an exceptional event. Try buying a ticket at the Shanghai train station.

The mention of race is noteworthy. Chinese, and most asians it seems, have some pretty interesting thoughts on black people. I had a Korean student who asked me in all earnestness if all black people were criminals, because that's what he saw in the movies. That was a very enlightening moment for me. That aside, prejudice against blacks in China is pretty rampant. Not just the rare foreign black folk, or the US president, but also darker skinned Chinese from the south. Black is bad, white is good. Everyone wants to be lighter, hiding under umbrellas and slathering on skin whiteners.

Sharon Beth Long
Sharon Beth Long4 years ago

I frequently believe that many fights in pro sports are orchestrated in order to gain publicity or to sell tickets to people who might like more excitement but in this case that would be counterproductive in spite of the rabid nationalism in China (fostered in large part by the government that wants to deflect its public's attention away from internal problems)
As the comments on the You Tube video of this fight pointed out this fight probably has a racial base. Many Chinese are very prejudiced against Blacks and truly believe that Blacks are inferior (not that most have ever seen or talked to a Black person) and the thought of losing to a Black or predominately Black team such as Georgetown might make the players and Chinese fans doubt in the back of their minds if their own team is truly any good. And--as others have pointed out, the players' economic futures may rest on this. The thinking may be that if they cannot beat even a Black team then these basketball players might really be no good especially in other international competitions.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.4 years ago

Interesting that some of the comments are defending the Chinese. Why? They started the brawl and they are the one who picked up chairs, etc., to fight with. And how could you possibly defend the Chinese crowd. I say let China rot and we could do that by not buying their inferior goods. And by stop sending our jobs to these people. I don't fear China. We could beat her at her own game...ecconomically bring her to her knees.

Robert V.

Does anyone still think sports builds character? No players earns their bloated salaries because jockocracy does not create wealth and it contributes nothing redeeming to the human race. I do not feel sorry for Chinese athletes having to work off the enormous expense of training them for something that is of so little intrinsic value.

Karen & Edward O.
Karen and Ed O.4 years ago

Wait a minute. What are we saying here? That it's China's fault this happened? I'm sorry their athletes have it tough but does that excuse the team from America? They could have backed off and said, "hey, I'm here to play, not fight". It's no wonder kids think the only way to settle their problems is by getting violent.

The Other Robert O
Robert O.4 years ago

I love the guy at 21 seconds - swinging a bottle or club of some kind - bringing it down on one of the Georgetown kids... The crowd's behavior is deplorable. This may or may not represent the Chinese people, but it surely represents the Government of China. One could go so far as to venture Georgetown reflected America - thinking excellence, and a good clean game could win the day. What a world we live in!

Jim V.
Jim V.4 years ago

Looks like hockey without the ice.
That's an idea, send the B's over to play a good will ice hockey game.
Like all sports - it's better than a full scale war, but it's B-ball not Ultimate fighting. It would appear that the audience had some preconceptions about the US Team - Perhaps they were brainwashed to hate them and found it easy to beat on these differently colored non-human objects. This is the effect of propaganda.

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance4 years ago

An educated player is a smarter player, no matter what sport. It is depolrable that academics is withheld in favour of non stop training. What happens when injuries shut down a career early? Athletes are not property, they are human beings.

I suspect that tensions in this gane were running higher than they might otherwise have because here was China's A team, in a tie with an an American college team with 9 minutes to go and in danger of losing. I wonder what losing might have meant to the Chinese team. Could it be that they would lose their state support and therefore their livelihood? From fame to anonynmity in one game.

bob m.
bob m.4 years ago

Bring them home.