When the Georgetown Hoyas played the Bayi Military Rockets in Beijing on Thursday, the matchup had been billed as the “China-U.S. Basketball Friendship Match,” part of a four-game, 10-day goodwill trip to China.
Instead, what we got was an unwelcome display of savagery from the Rockets, a team composed of members of the Chinese army, and Georgetown, traditionally a classy program and one of America’s leading universities. It’s bad enough that the NBA players are locked out, but now even the U.S.’s college players are in the news for the wrong reasons.
Now I understand that tensions can get heated during competition, that players can take exception to a particularly hard foul. So while an incident like this has no place in the sport, I could at least understand if it took place during a tight playoff game between old rivals. But something like this happening in an exhibition game between two teams that have never faced each other before? On a goodwill tour? There’s no excuse, and everyone involved should be ashamed.
U.S.-China relations aren’t exactly cordial at the moment, and an incident like this surely won’t help matters, especially considering that it involved a team from Washington, D.C. playing in the Chinese capital during vice president Joe Biden’s trip to China. And while Georgetown doesn’t represent the NBA, American basketball took a major hit in China last week, as the brawl coincided with the news that NBA players will not be able to play in the Chinese Basketball Association without leaving their NBA teams. Of course it’s possible that many Chinese simply didn’t hear about the brawl, as the Chinese state media did not report the incident and has sought to censor any mention of it on Chinese websites.
There’s not really much else to say on the issue—it was an embarrassment, and I sincerely hope the players learned their lesson, etc., etc. Malice at the Palace this was not, but you hate to see an injured player in a knee brace (Hoyas forward Moses Ayegba) limp onto the court carrying a chair out of self-defense. It does seem that Georgetown has made some peace with the organizers of their tour, playing an incident-free exhibition in Shanghai over the weekend. Still, it’s sad to see what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the players turn into a tour that will be forever marred by a few minutes of unpleasantness.