Among candidates for China’s greatest humiliation on a basketball court, high on the list is a match played in Afghanistan in 1970, when a Chinese side was beaten 58-39 by an Afghan squad coached from scratch by an American Peace Corp volunteer named Tom Gouttierre.
Gouttierre told TIME magazine this month that he initially thought his team would get thrashed, not least because his team was much smaller in height. But thanks to superior on-court organisation and fitness, Afghanistan gained under his guidance its first-ever international basketball victory.
Not surprisingly the Chinese couldn’t believe they had been beaten by a team largely composed of students from Kabul.
But if that result seemed bad, it pales in political significance to the performance of the national team at this month’s FIBA Asia Championship in Manila.
In what is regarded by many as a new low, the nation’s basketball team was beaten 96-78 by Chinese Taipei (the name under which the Taiwanese sports team competes). As a shocked Global Times pointed out, this was “the first time for Chinese Taipei to take out their far more prominent mainland cousins”.
Sun Qin – editor of the publication Basketball Pioneers – wrote on his Sina Weibo account: “I have been commenting on basketball for nearly 20 years but I have never felt so ashamed over a game.”
The defeat capped what had already been a humiliating tournament for the Chinese team. Erstwhile giants of the Asian game – thanks to players like Yao Ming – China failed to make even the semi-finals this time, resoundingly beaten by South Korea and Iran. As Sohu Sports points out there was a litany of dreadful statistics to deal with too: the team’s largest losing margin ever (19 points); the fewest points at half-time (24); and the lowest full-time points haul (just 57).
Defeat at the hands of its island neighbour was more painful for Chinese sports fans, coming as it did after the country got thrashed 5-1 at soccer by Thailand (see WiC198).
The damning verdict of Sohu Sports: “Of China’s 1.3 billion people, we could not even find 11 people that can play football, and now it becomes difficult to find five who can play basketball.”
The Economic Observer was also quick to publish a post-mortem. For starters, it said, the team has failed to bring in new blood. Six of the aging players had featured in the line-up at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But the newspaper had a host of other reasons for what it termed the “Manila Waterloo”: including skill levels that have been dulled by too few games in the local leagues, referees who give Chinese star players an easy time in club matches, a non-existent transfer market and a “pseudo-professional” ethic in the CBA League.
Mulling further on the “national humiliation”, the deputy editor of Sports Weekly noted the weakness of the grassroots talent system: “China hasn’t produced an excellent guard in more than a decade.”
Sohu Sports concurs on the grassroots issue, reckoning there are 500,000 registered basketball coaches in the US but just 100 in China.
Others preferred to speculate on who would be sacked after the poor showing. China News Service says the director and deputy director of the China Basketball Management Centre have been fighting between themselves and one may have to go. Nor is there apparently any love lost between deputy director Hu Jiashi and the team’s Greek coach Panagiotis Yannakis, who were caught on camera refusing to shake hands.
But it might be a bit too soon to fire the coach himself, as he was only appointed in April.
“It has been too short a time for the coach to adapt to China,” China News Service agreed wisely. “We cannot simply make a judgement on him because of one win or loss.”
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