Zhu Fangyu, the all-time leading scorer in the Chinese Basketball Association and a cornerstone of his country’s national team is probably wishing he could stay in America indefinitely right now. The small forward, part of the Guangdong Tigers team that has won eight CBA titles in eleven years, is currently training stateside whilst back in China, a lurid scandal involving himself, his now ex-wife and a third woman continues to gain momentum.
The gist of the story is this; Zhu’s wife Hu Mei, a former Olympic gymnast, recently announced on Chinese social media that the couple had been divorced for almost over a year after the relationship irrevocably broke down. Coinciding with the announcement by Hu, several Chinese websites began running compromising photos of Zhu and a mysterious second woman on a beach dating back to June 2012. The photos themselves were taken by a tourist on a beach in Sanya, Hainan province, where Zhu was practicing with the national team for the 2012 London Olympics. The news of the divorce, plus the fact that one of China’s most decorated players had brought his presumed mistress with him to a national team training camp quickly spread like wildfire.
As the story became a trending topic on Chinese social media, local journalists across the country dropped everything and promptly went to town on the story. Hu, realizing this was also her best chance to get her voice heard, has also since made a variety of claims about Zhu using his financial leverage to prevent a divorce when Hu first tried to end the marriage and then in the aftermath has been uncooperative with regard to child support and the children’s welfare itself. Media reports have also inferred Zhu flew the second woman to New Zealand with him at one point and that the affair was common knowledge among several established CBA players. Zhu has been relatively quiet on the matter other than to release a statement apologizing for his behavior in the past and to Hu in general. Hu herself has turn dismissed it as PR exercise to save face.
As the story goes on, lot of the reporting has made for unpleasant reading. In the midst of Zhu’s dirty laundry getting hung out to dry in public, its been uncomfortable watching the Chinese media gleefully collect and republish a number of statements from an obviously emotional Hu. There is also something worrying about major media outlets running the alleged mistress’ Weibo page (China’s equivalent of Facebook) as a front page story along with its web address. Once the identity of the presumed other woman in the relationship became apparent, Sina than ran a slideshow of pictures inviting readers to decide who was ‘more beautiful; Hu or the mistress. This can be par for the course for China’s sports media, which at times are excellent and unremitting in their reporting of the CBA but can also scrape the absolute gutter if there is enough page views in it for them. Chinese reporters might point out that Western websites also stoop to this level but to be fair, Sina and Sohu, as two of China’s biggest media providers, probably don’t want to be pulling the same moves as TMZ if they also want to be hubs for serious journalism at the same time.
For Zhu, there is also now a growing firestorm of publicity waiting for him upon his return to southern China. A team with championship credentials and a big name American signing in the form of Emmanuel Mudiay are already going to be closely scrutinized but this will heap further attention on Guangdong and the player himself. Chinese fans remain some of the most brutal in professional basketball and Zhu may well find himself getting some of the same legendary heckling that drove his former teammate Su Wei to seek therapy a couple of years ago. As someone who once watched a front-row sitting Shanghainese fan try to catch Stephon Marbury’s eye with a sign with written in English asking how his former chef was doing, I can confirm nothing is off-limits in a CBA arena.
All of this means Zhu is probably in for a bumpy ride during the next few months, especially if more dirt gets raked up by the local media. Given the popularity of the story, it may also led to other CBA stars and their extra curricular activities being exposed. For now at least though, Zhu is trapped in the spotlight alone and the glare is getting particularly toasty.
Images: Sina, China News