Sport

Basket case

Attendances are up at basketball games, but so too are riots

Duck eyes Dragon, warily

WiC has covered the wave of ‘Linsanity’ hitting the NBA in recent weeks, thanks to the explosive performances of point guard, Jeremy Lin.

Over in China, the domestic basketball league seems to be suffering from a plain old bout of madness – or at least some pretty unrelenting fury, as far as the Shanxi Brave Dragons are concerned.

The flashpoint came during the recent semi-final between the Dragons and the Beijing Ducks. The best-of-five series turned ugly in match four at Shanxi’s home stadium in Taiyuan, in what Dalian Evening News calls “the longest, most serious fan disturbance this season”.

The chaos began 54 seconds from the end of the game, when Beijing was awarded a crucial free throw.

In an extraordinary move, Shanxi’s owner then rushed onto the court to berate the ref heatedly. This stirred the already volatile home fans who began to pelt the Beijing players with cigarette lighters, bottles and other assorted debris.

When the match restarted five minutes later, Beijing converted its free throw penalty, winning 102 to 100, and tying the series two games each.

But the Ducks did not anticipate that a “larger storm” was waiting for them, notes the Dalian Evening News.

The departing Ducks soon found their team bus surrounded by a mob of angry fans, who shouted abuse and threw rocks. The crowd’s ire was made worse by a claim from a Shanxi fan that Beijing’s star player, Stephon Marbury had pushed him over as he left the stadium (a claim Marbury later refuted).

“Marbury should come out to apologise,” the Shanxi fans screamed at the Ducks players, who were cowering inside.

Such was the situation that one Beijing player posted a cry for help online. “They’ve besieged the bus, thrown stones, yelled non-stop, beat the players… half an hour after the end of the game we are still surrounded,” he wrote on Sina Weibo, China’s local Twitter-equivalent.

After nearly an hour, police reinforcements arrived and the Beijing team was able to drive away from the stadium.

In the last game of the series – held on Sunday – the Ducks prevailed 110 to 98, reaching the final against defending champions Guangdong Southern Tigers.

But the riot in Taiyuan has left a black mark on the season. Just as with Chinese soccer, it mars the image of professional sports in the country.

Shanxi’s owner Wang Xingjiang – a steel magnate – was unrepentant about his own role in the fracas, and also objected to the Rmb60,000 fine received by the Dragons for the bad behaviour of their fans.

“We will certainly not give in to this punishment and will appeal,” Wang said. “We should blame the referee and he should bear the consequences.”

According to the Legal Evening News, the Brave Dragons have been the definitive bad boys of the season. Out of 12 teams censured this year, a quarter of the fines were incurred by Shanxi. The newspaper also thinks the team has got away with a “light fine” this time, especially as it “interrupted a game and attacked a visiting team”.

The basketball editor of Sports Weekly, Yang Yi, agrees the fine was too “soft” and won’t discourage Shanxi or others from similar exploits in future.

But while tougher action might have been wiser in the long run, stiffer financial penalties could prove devastating for many of the teams in the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association).

That’s because, as the Nanjing Daily reports, all the clubs are suffering financial losses. The newspaper reckons every team lost at least Rmb10 million this season.

The problem? The clubs have spent huge sums to bring in talent from America’s NBA to jazz up the league, signing stars like Beijing’s Marbury. Rmb645 million has been spent on players versus just Rmb100 million five years ago.

While attendances have also risen – stadiums on average are now more than three quarters full – the larger crowds and higher ticket prices have not been enough to offset the big increase in costs. Nanjing Daily says that, in spite of sponsorships and advertising deals, the clubs have not been able to find enough alternative revenue sources to break even.

That means that the teams rely on deep-pocketed owners like the fiery Wang Xingjiang for their survival.

Of course, that’s not unlike most of the clubs in the top European soccer leagues.

There’s one difference, though: neither Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich or Manchester City’s Mansour bin Zayd Al Nahyan has stormed onto the pitch to remonstrate with match officials.

At least, they haven’t done so yet…


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