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.
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.
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.