It’s that time of year again, folks. The CBA play-offs are in full swing and with Shanxi involved in the mix, this can only mean one thing; absolutely massive brawls. Now longtime readers of this blog will know that the Dragons are the closest thing China has to the Oakland Raiders. Indeed, the last time they were in the play-offs, their fans rioted at least once and during one road game at Shanghai, a Shanxi assistant coach in his fifties heckled the entire Sharks arena and beckoned for particularly irate fans to climb over the railings and do something about it. But this time around, Shanxi may have painted their masterpiece. You’ve got brawling with players, fans coming down from the stands and a second mob of pissed off supporters waiting outside. There really is something for everyone in this encounter.
Coming into this series with Qingdao, Shanxi had a point to prove. Two years in the cellar of Chinese basketball had suddenly been erased with the return of their mercurial former coach Yang Xuezeng, and the former army officer quickly set about re-installing his famed high-intensity offense. NBA journeyman Von Wafer was signed during the preseason to be the fulcrum of the team and with the American playing as a point-forward, everything else began to fall into place. Jeremy Tyler, he of the end of the New York Knicks bench last season, gave the team a big low post body. Hyper intense Jordanian power forward Zaid Abbas, who once stood infront of the Guangsha Lions bench in the middle of a game and basically told them they weren’t shit if Wilson Chandler wasn’t on the floor, was also brought in. In addition to all these pieces, the roster already had the rest of Yang’s key ingredients (streaky shooters and goonish big men) left over from the last time he was with the team in 2012. Having finished the regular season with a 27-11 record and an offense that could light anyone up on their day, this team was coming into this play-off series looking to take names.
The trouble was that they bumped into Qingdao, who matched up well with the Dragons. Like Shanxi, they were also allowed three foreign players on the roster due to finishing in the bottom five the previous year. The Eagles also had a talented coach in the form of Liu Quipeng, Yao Ming’s old mentor when the two won a CBA title in 2002. It was still however a complete crapshoot and no-one could have honestly said they had a handle on how the series was going to play out (as evidenced by the variety of wrong guesses during this blog’s prediction post). In hindsight, Liu may well have been the difference maker as his tactics helped Qingdao gradually isolate Wafer and frustrate the dangerous Shanxi offense. The end result was the Dragons shooting themselves out of games whilst Qingdao’s own foreigners made their own shots down the stretch.
The series culminated in a 3-0 sweep for the Eagles but Shanxi were clearly not happy once the final buzzer sounded in game three. By then, Wafer had been ejected
for a hard foul on Luo Xudong for punching a dude in the nuts in revenge for the later tripping up a teammate as he was attempting a lay-up. After he got tossed, Wafer then appeared to say something to someone on Qingdao’s bench or even at the crowd itself before throwing a chair against the wall. Understandably, none of this was well received by the home fans.
Things though would come to a head when the game finished and the players went to shake hands. Tyler, who also did not finish the game after fouling out, was met at the half court by Qingdao’s Hamad Haddadi. The two centers had spent three fairly heated games going back and forth in the paint and in game two, Tyler had reacted angrily to a couple of defensive moves by Haddadi that appeared to be more about connecting with the man than the ball. As the two approached, Tyler suddenly gave Haddadi a shove and then beckoned him to the tunnel to continue things away from the camera.
Edit: Its worth noting that this article has changed since it was originally posted, This is because more information and footage have since emerged out. What happened next is still difficult to follow chronologically but shit ended up getting real in the tunnel by the dressing rooms. The gist of things are as follow.
- As the Qingdao players left the court, Shanxi’s players were waiting around in the area between the two dressing rooms. As the two rosters crossed paths, words were exchanged.
- Haddadi at one point talks back to someone, presumably Tyler. Then the two teams converge and have to be broken up by security and dragged into their respective dressing rooms.
- As this is happening, some Qingdao fans make their way down from the stands, somehow get past security and then began swearing and heckling some Shanxi players.
- One of the Dragons’ big men immediately reacts and comes after the fans, looking to confront them. As the Shanxi player is physically restrained and shoved against the wall, his teammates came rushing in to try and pull him away from Qingdao’s arena security and the situation becomes inflamed again .
Even then, the fun isn’t over. Having sensed the rising tensions, no-one from Shanxi attended the post game press conference and instead the whole team would wait for things to calm down so they could leave without any further trouble. This though would be easier said then done. By now, several hundred Qingdao fans had gathered beside the road leading out of the arena meaning a battalion of Chinese police in full riot gear had to be deployed before the mob dispersed.
What happens now remains to be seen but Shanxi will almost certainly be fined for their players’ actions during and after the game. In the meantime, the editor of one of China’s biggest basketball magazines has already come out to suggest that Tyler is ‘a timebomb’ in the minds of CBA front offices and is effectively done as an foreign import. This however sounds like a hot take artist rushing to get his name out in the media. Tyler was a reliable double-double guy in China and averaged 22.1 points and 11.2 rebounds in just 28 minutes of playing time- if he wants to come back in China, he will get offers. Likewise, Wafer, who averaged 32.7 points per game and was shooting almost 50% from downtown, will still be looking at several high six-figure contracts for next year regardless of the fallout from tonight.
The last time Shanxi were in the play-offs, they went out with a bang as their fans trapped opposing teams in their buses and the players almost knocked Stephon Marbury and the heavily favored Beijing Ducks out of the postseason. This time around, much of the same team helped spark two brawls and a mass mobilization of riot police. Even in defeat, it is good to know the old Shanxi spirit lives on.
Edit 2: The CBA has announced Shanxi will be fined 50,000 RMB (roughly $8,000). Wafer has also been fined and will have a six game ban that will run into next season. Given the regular season is thirty-eight games, that’s a lot of time to be out and the ban may in fact stop anyone from offering Wafer a deal. Qingdao have also been punished, seemingly in response for the crowd issues after the game.