The Washington Bullets was the first professional sports team from America to visit the People’s Republic of China. The 1979 trip came just months after the Bullets had been crowned as champions of the NBA and, more significantly, followed in the wake of Jimmy Carter’s icebreaking visit to Beijing to improve relations with China.
The trip included sightseeing stops to the Great Wall. “They just told us not to do anything stupid, which as members of a professional basketball team we were apt to do sometimes. I learned some Chinese, too: hello, goodbye, I’m sorry, things like that,” Wes Unseld, the Bullets’ star centre recounted to the Washington Post in 2009.
Perhaps no one bothered to offer similar advice to the Houston Rockets when the team visited China this month. It also made the pilgrimage to the Great Wall, where Bobby Brown, the team’s point guard, stoked public anger by defacing it.
Brown had just returned to the NBA, having signed with the Houston Rockets last month. And he’s no stranger to China, having played with the Dongguan Leopards for a couple of years (he scored 74 points in a single game in 2013). He was back in Beijing this month as the Rockets played pre-season exhibition matches. But things went amiss last week when he took his teammates to the Great Wall and scratched his signature and uniform number onto the historic structure. As if that wasn’t sufficiently ill-judged, he compounded his mistake by posting a photo of his handiwork on his weibo account accompanied by the text: “Had a blast at the Great Wall of China today.”
The post swiftly went viral as thousands of netizens accused the American of damaging one of China’s most iconic cultural relics.
“Are you proud of your carving? This is a part of world heritage, not the toilet of your home,” one angry internet user wrote. “Bobby Brown has joined Ding Jinhao in the Hall of Shame for ugly graffiti on tourist spots,” another said, referring to the 15 year-old teenager who defaced an ancient Egyptian temple in 2013 (see WiC195).
“No matter who you are, you should not scratch graffiti on the Great Wall. As a world cultural relic, the Great Wall needs protection from both Chinese people and foreign tourists,” a local tourist guide told Beijing Youth Daily.
Under fire, Brown apologised. “I respect the Chinese culture, I made an honest mistake … hope you forgive me,” he begged in a weibo post that, like the initial one featuring the photo, was soon removed by the basketballer.
An official from the Beijing local government told the Global Times that the case is currently under investigation. “Punishment, such as a fine or warning, will be given to unruly tourists according to their behaviour,” the official said.
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