What is the CBA? The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) was launched in 1995 and has changed its format several times until settling on the current version (which was introduced in the 2014-2015 season). The CBA is a twenty-team league where every team plays each other home and away once over the course of a thirty-eight game regular season. The regular season runs from late November to February.

Does the CBA have play-offs? Yes. The top eight teams in the league go through to the CBA play-offs, where there will be quarter and semi finals before the remaining two sides slug it out in a best-of-seven final. In the event of two teams being finishing the regular season tied for the same record, the points scored/points against from the head to head match-ups are used to decide who goes through to the play-offs. According to their regular season records, the team that finished first plays the side who had finished eighth; the second placed team faces off against the side that finished seventh, and so on. Home court advantage in each round is decided by who has the better overall record. 

Who are the big teams in the CBA?  The Bayi Rockets were the basketball powerhouse in China for the better part of forty years but their dominance ended once the CBA was able to sign high level American talent (as an army team, Bayi can only play Chinese players). From about 2003 onwards, Bayi’s place at the top was taken by the Guangdong Tigers, who went to every CBA Finals between the 2003/04 season to 2013/14. In that time, they won eight CBA championships. But recently, as the Tigers’ “golden generation” has drifted into their thirties, the league has belonged to the Beijing Ducks, who like Guangdong in their pomp,  rely on a core of young Chinese players to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. But whereas Guangdong recruited foreign players essentially to rebound and bring the ball up the court, Beijing’s successes have been based around finding top tier American players who compliment the style of the Beijing offense and the playbook of coach Min Lulei. Accordingly, experienced pick and roll players Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris have been critical to Beijing’s success. The Ducks, the 2014/15 champions, have won three of the last four CBA titles and are currently the team to beat in China. Other teams to watch are the Xinjiang Tigers, who have appeared in four of the last six CBA Finals and the Liaoning Leopards, whose traditionally produce some of the best young players in China.

How many overseas players are allowed on each team? Each team is allowed two overseas players (players from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan are counted as Chinese). The two foreign players are allowed to play a total of six quarters between the two of them. Only one foreign player is allowed to play in the fourth quarter, but they can sub in and out of the game for one-another. Teams that finished in the bottom five of the league in the previous CBA season are allowed an extra ‘Asian import’ (ie. non-Chinese/non-North American) player who has no restrictions on how many quarters he can play. The only team that does not have any foreign players are Bayi Rockets. To give them a chance, the league implemented a rule that means teams who play Bayi can only use their overseas players for five quarters instead of six. Additionally, those teams with an ‘Asian import’ player, cannot field him against Bayi.

How are Chinese/overseas players signed and can teams trade them? All the free agency signings take place in the preseason. After that, there is no player movement during the season unless a overseas player is cut and a replacement needs to be signed. Though its only started to happen in recent years, high profile Chinese players have begun to exercise their free agency in a far more aggressive fashion. In response to this, and also because the CBA has no salary cap, the Chinese preseason can become a hectic due to richer CBA teams attempting to stockpile local talent . Though there are trades, they are infrequent and take place in the offseason.  

Is there a draft? Yes. In 2015, the CBA unveiled the first ever local player draft but it appears to be ill-suited for the current model of Chinese basketball where the best young players still come through the youth sides of CBA teams (like European soccer) instead of first going to college (as is the case in US sports).

What makes things confusing is that its unclear if the current system will run alongside the old player reallocation model that ran until at least 2012. In that format, at the beginning of every season, every CBA team was allowed to “protect” ten of their domestic players. The rest of the Chinese roster was put in a draft pool. Then based on backwards order of finish, other teams could draft the unprotected players. The catch was that the player could only play for his new team for one or two seasons depending on the agreement between the two CBA organizations. In its essence, the system was designed to work like the loan system that one would see in European soccer. As such, most teams allowed their young guys or players who couldn’t get enough playing time to fall into the draft slots. That way, if another team picked them, it was a win for the current team because the other organization was basically developing the player for free and then returning him at the end of the season.

Is there an All-Star Game? Yes. It works like the NBA in terms of voting but both North and South teams are only allowed to field two imports on the court. Because the stadium situation in China is limited (ie. there are only really two that are large and developed enough to host the event), the All-Star weekend invariably rotates between the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou.