Wang Xingquan, The Magnificent Bastard Of Chinese Basketball Rides Again

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Few owners in the CBA have given league administrators as many sleepless nights as Wang Xingquan. The personification of the Chinese ‘da laoban’ (‘big boss’), it seemed at times that Wang was actively looking for ways to piss people off. If the league could have put a hit out on him, they probably would have done.

Things though have been quiet for the last year. Having sold the ownership of his old team, the Shanxi Dragons, to a group of Chinese investors, Wang seemed destined to fade into obscurity and perhaps become a humorous aside from the old days of the CBA. However, those hopes appear to have been dashed if Sina Sport is to be believed; ‘The Chinese Cuban is Back!’, it thundered. To the presumed horror of league officials, Boss Wang has indeed resurfaced in his home province of Henan, busily establishing a team to compete in next year’s National Basketball League, essentially the second tier of Chinese basketball.

Regardless of his intentions, its far from certain how successful Wang will be with his new team. His ownership of the Dragons had been mostly uneventful (at least from a sporting perspective) since he bought the then Henan-based team in 2004 before moving them to Shanxi province in 2006. There, the Dragons languished in obscurity, accumulating several losing records and essentially being an afterthought within league circles. The most notable moment for a while was signing Bonzi Wells in 2008, who promptly got on a plane to America during the Chinese New Year holiday and refused to come back. 

However, things changed somewhat in 2010 when Wang pulled off arguably the most critical free agency signing in CBA history by bringing in Stephon Marbury to China midway through the 2010/11 season. Though over the hill and mad as a sack full of badgers, the simple fact that Wang had signed a two-time NBA All-Star legitimized the league in the eyes of outsiders and suddenly Chinese audiences wanted to see Shanxi when they came to town, simply because they had Ma-bu-li on the roster.

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Marbury, who averaged 22.9 ppg and 9.5 apg during his debut half season, was duly signed to a three-year deal in the 2011 offseason and it looked like Wang had found his talisman and the key to making Shanxi a hot ticket item in the CBA. Then Wang being Wang, he woke up one day in December and decided he was done with the American guard and cut Marbury midseason.

The following year, Wang truly went to bat, first offering Kobe Bryant a purported monthly salary of $1.5 million to play for his team during the 2011 NBA labour stoppage. Only CBA rules that prevented Americans breaking their Chinese contracts and returning to the NBA in the event of the lockout ending preventing the move from going through. Undaunted, Wang instead threw money at Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines, two long-established American players in the league. The result was dynamite and Shanxi became one of the most terrifying teams in the league, blowing away almost everyone that got in their way. Williams (32ppg) and Gaines (29.1ppg) were close to unstoppable in an offensive scheme that also brought the best out of local players like Duan Jiangpeng, a streaky corner three specialist, and veteran point guard Lu Xiaoming. It would take a hugely controversial semi-final play-off series with Beijing, the events of which are still regarded by some as the league colluding to get Marbury, the CBA’s golden boy, to the Finals.

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However murky the end result, Wang was still undoubtably enraged by watching Marbury stick it to him by leading Beijing through that play-off series and to an eventual championship. Wang quickly made sure to renew the deals of his new star Americans by a further two years but also not break them on a whim. The trouble was he had already exhausted the patience of other key personnel within the locker room. Shanxi’s coach and the architect of the Dragons hugely destructive offense, Yang Xuezeng, had decided he’d had enough after just a year and left the team for the Zhejiang Bulls. Wang then duly hired Spaniard, Jesus Mateo, only to demote him after the opening regular season game and replace him with Zhang Degui amid rumours that the latter was more inclined to follow Wang’s ‘suggestions’.

As Wang began to find ways to shoot himself in the foot again, the CBA itself was waiting in the wings to stick it to their long-time foe, having finally become tired of Wang’s antics. The league also undoubtably blamed him for helping cultivate the increasing tempestuous atmosphere at Shanxi games. They were waiting for their chance and seemed to have found it when Williams tested positive for smoking cannabis early on in the CBA season. The American was banned for the entire season, a wildly severe punishment that may as well have been a middle finger from the league to Wang.

Missing one of the best players in the league, the Dragons’ season was effectively over within the first two months. Shanxi’s owner first attempted to fix the situation by getting Nate Mills, who had no college or professional experience but who Wang had once seen play for a traveling American exhibition team. When the league blocked the move because he could not get clearance papers to play (another curious move that seemed to essentially be designed to screw over Wang), Shanxi had to desperately plug-in former Cavaliers bust Christian Eyenga instead. It did not work out.

Since then, Shanxi have been struggling. Wang’s enemies within the league probably enjoyed the fact that the depleted Dragons were on the received end of Quincy Douby’s record setting haul of 75 points in a game. Beyond that, it has been nothing but losing seasons and dashed hopes. Wang sold the team in the summer of 2013 to a team of Beijing businessmen and although Williams returned last season, he and Gaines couldn’t recapture the magic of 2011 and the Dragons finished with a 10-24 record.

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Wang though had never gone away. After selling the team, he still regularly came to Shanxi’s home game and was evidently looking for a way to get back into Chinese basketball. His machinations in Henan seem to suggest he has found a way to do it.
 
The National Basketball League (NBL) is a semi-pro summer time league in China that historically no-one has ever cared about. There is no relegation or promotion per se into the CBA meaning that it is traditionally an afterthought in terms of basketball. However, in recent years the CBA have slowly starting to target large Chinese markets that don’t currently have a team. NBL teams from those areas function as a way of proving to league officials that basketball can survive in such places and thus get moved into the CBA. The Sichuan Blue Whale, who recently signed Metta World Peace, are the most recent example of this and more ‘expansion’ moves are expected by the CBA in the coming years.
 
Wang can take advantage of this slow but steady expansion push given that Henan, which has a population of around 94 million people, currently has no CBA team. What Henan does have already though is another NBL team, who finished mid table in this year’s standings. It essentially means Wang’s flamboyant new project will vie directly with the more established team. League administrators at the CBA headquarters in Beijing must be delighted.
 
The potential clash between Wang’s proposed team and the current Henan outfit will have to wait at least one year though. The NBL is divided into Division A and Division B. Teams entering the NBL, like Wang’s will start in Division B and essentially need to be promoted to Division A if they are to contend for the NBL title and possible promotion to the CBA.
 
If he can keep his nose out of the team affairs (a big ask under most circumstances), there is now the delicious possibility that his Henan team could eventually outperform its existing but underwhelming neighbors. Should that be the case and his Henan side is one day good enough to be introduced into the CBA, the league would have no choice but to bring Wang back into the fold given that he’d have the key to expanding into China’s third largest province. Just when the league had thought they’d finally got rid of Boss Wang, soon they might have to once again find him a seat at the top table.
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One thought on “Wang Xingquan, The Magnificent Bastard Of Chinese Basketball Rides Again

  1. […] Both Williams and Gaines returned the following year and even without Yang, Williams was still averaging over 30 points a game until he was suspended midway through the 2012/13 season. The reason for this ban, you ask? Weed. Basically Williams tested positive for a casual street drug that he probably smoked in his hotel room whilst wiling away the time in the Dragons’ rather isolated home city of Taiyuan. For that, the American was banned for the entire season; an extreme punishment that was probably more about attacking the Dragons’ unpredictable and increasing uncontrollable owner, Wang Xingquan. […]

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