In a remarkable situation, players from the Liaoning Leopards– including several members of the Chinese national team– fought with rival fans outside the team hotel just hours after the team had lost 109-104 to Sichuan Blue Whale in Game 3 of the CBA Finals. The incident has quickly become one of the most talked about stories in China, and once again, the CBA is staring at another major scandal that could not have happened at a worse time.
Firstly, it needs to be stressed that it is still difficult to figure out exactly what happened during the fight. The general gist is as follows and has been pieced together from a number of different news reports. Things will be clarified as and when new information is released.
- After the game on Wednesday night, a group of roughly 20-30 Sichuan fans began waiting for the Liaoning players at their hotel in downtown Chengdu.
- When the Liaoning bus arrived back from the game, some players were also accompanied by families and spouses. As the group made their way to the hotel entrance, a group of Sichuan fans swarmed around the Liaoning team and heckled them.
- During this encounter, something was said or done that angered family members of at least one Liaoning player (edit: it’s reportedly the fathers of national team regulars He Tianju and Guo Ailun), who in turn confronted the Sichuan fans.
- When the player(s) saw what was happening, they went after their father(s). It is unclear if this was to pull them away or double up and go after the fans together.
- Upon seeing this, other players rushed in, whilst Sichuan fans also tried to help out their guys.
- During the melee, at least one Liaoning player is seen kicking and stomping a Sichuan fan, whilst punches also get thrown.
- At some point, a casually dressed person, probably a fan, gets knocked to the ground and slides across the pavement from the force of the blows he received.
- After a while, the Liaoning players, most of whom are visibly angry at the Sichuan fans, are dragged into the hotel only for one to come rushing out for a second confrontation. A couple of players follow him from out of the hotel onto the street. Eventually everyone is led back to the hotel.
Edit: Learned CBA writer, Nick Bedard just loaded up footage from the brawl. It is not pleasant.
Everything is now under control but according to media outlets in China, the hotel entrance is surrounded by police, presumably to stop Sichuan fans coming into the hotel or Liaoning players getting out. It is unclear if any arrests were made but Sohu Sports is reporting that one security guard went to hospital after getting injured in the brawl. Liaoning have released a statement condemning the fan behavior (Leopards GM, Yan Xiaoming, has made it clear his players were protecting the fathers of He and Guo).
Although the league has not publicly commented about what happened, a senior CBA official is understood to have met with his Liaoning counterparts to discuss the fracas shortly after it occurred. When spotted by local journalists, the official made it clear it was too early for the league to make any formal announcements. Meanwhile, CBA players from at least two rival teams went on Chinese social media to make it clear that they support the actions of the Liaoning roster and that anyone who steps to someone’s parents deserve a lick.
Right now, the CBA is looking at their worst nightmare and the incident is already being compared with the NBA’s ‘Malice at the Palace’ brawl back in 2004, when players from the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons fought with fans on national television. However, not only are Chinese news programs leading the news with images of seven-foot athletes fighting on the pavement, it is during the CBA Finals themselves. Critically, the incident also involves Liaoning players who will be expected to start a critical Game 4 on Friday night.
As has been pointed out by Sina Sports, this story is going to keep on building thanks to the CBA’s firm guidelines with regard to off-the-court conduct. According to league rules, any kind of violent confrontation with fans or other individuals would constitute an 8-10 game suspension and possibly a ban from the rest of the season. Given that both He and Guo are thought to have been involved in the clash, they would be ruled out of the rest of the Finals. The 7″2, 310lb Han Dejun can also be clearly seen amid the scrum and he too would be a candidate for suspension. As a result, Liaoning could be missing at least three starters for the rest of the series if the CBA follows their own rulebook.
It should be noted that clashes between fans and players are not uncommon in the CBA, particularly when the postseason comes along. Back in 2012, Shanxi Dragons supporters blocked the Beijing Ducks’ team bus from leaving the Shanxi arena after an especially controversial game. Last year, a small group of Qingdao Eagles supporters reportedly managed to get into the tunnel connecting the court and the dressing rooms in the aftermath of a Qingdao-Shanxi play-off game. Their target was a number of Shanxi players, particularly Von Wafer, who had earlier been ejected for punching a Qingdao point guard in the nuts.
However, tonight’ situation is probably the worst example of fan and player violence in the CBA’s lifetime and how the league handles this remains to be seen. Obviously the sight of large athletes fighting with civilians doesn’t make for good PR but Liaoning are already trying to shape the narrative and make it clear that their players were provoked by the Sichuan fans. The team will also demand answers for the lax security that allowed a large mob to surround the Liaoning hotel in the first place.
Meanwhile, Liaoning, who are now 2-1 down in the Finals, still have one more game in Chengdu before they can get out of the city. Whatever happens with regard to the league handing down suspensions, Friday’s game is also going to be mega feisty. On the court, the two teams clearly do not like the other and now the Sichuan fans will be especially pumped up. As incidents like tonight show, Chinese sports fans give zero fucks and He and Guo should brace themselves for lots of cat calls about their fathers (and that is if they even play). This Finals series was always going to be memorable given how different the two teams were both in personality and playing style, but things have suddenly gone to a whole new level now that one team has been brawling with the other side’s fans. Expect more updates on this story as and when they occur.