The Washington Post

Georgetown, China basketball coaches and players meet a day after on-court brawl

Members of the Georgetown University basketball team held a make-up session with the Chinese military team, the Bayi Rockets, the morning following a chair-throwing, on-court brawl that led to an abrupt end to their “friendly” exhibition game on Thursday and prompted an online outpouring of disgust by Chinese fans.

Coach John Thompson III and players Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson represented Georgetown at the brief meeting that took place at Beijing Capital Airport shortly before they departed for Shanghai, where the team will wrap up the final five days of its goodwill tour of China.

Coach Adi Jiang and players Chen Yu and Lehei De were in the Bayi contingent, and the sides discussed letting go of ill will in the aftermath of a fight that included players from both teams swinging and tackling one another. The incident didn’t end there though, with Georgetown players and coaches having to dodge flying plastic water bottles hurled by rowdy Chinese fans as the team exited the court for its locker room.

Friday’s meeting also included an exchange of autographed basketballs and Jiang showing Thompson pictures of his family. Thompson in turn suggested perhaps Chinese youths could come to the United States to attend Georgetown’s summer basketball camp next year.

“A lot of times in competition, the human side of the opposition gets lost,” Thompson said in Shanghai on Saturday, the day before the Hoyas will play another team from the Chinese Basketball Association as part of the Nike Sports Festival. “You realize it’s just two guys in a room with four players in a room, and you realize what you experienced the night before, but at the end of the day, we’re people and they’re people, so it wasn’t necessarily two opponents, two adversaries sitting in a room. It’s just two basketball coaches that have families, that have other interests, that have things in common.”

Thursday evening’s brawl came as Vice President Biden was in Beijing on a mission to enhance cooperation between the United States and China. Biden had attended a game Wednesday evening, when Georgetown played the Shanxi Brave Dragons, another professional team that, like Bayi, plays in the CBA.

The melee threatened to overshadow Biden’s trip and became a deep source of embarrassment to some Chinese “Netizens,” who presented their views in online forums, even as the government’s media censors tried to suppress any mention of the game and the brawl from news Web sites.

“The Chinese side gave Biden a big gift by having a brawl with the Georgetown team,” wrote one Internet poster, using the name Fifty Cents Pig, on the popular Weibo microblogging site.

Another Weibo user, writing under the name Wang Jiongxun, made an oblique reference to the army’s role in crushing a student uprising at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“So many years have passed, but our soldiers still like to conflict with college students,” the user wrote. “And this time, it escalated into international dispute.”

Chinese sports teams and their fans are notorious for often-violent behavior. Soccer matches held at Beijing’s Worker’s Stadium regularly draw out extra police reinforcements to prevent clashes from supporters of opposing sides. Last year, the coach of China’s national basketball team and three players were suspended following a brawl against the Brazilian team.

“My understanding is that it’s all cleared up,” Cui Tiankai, the vice foreign minister, was quoted as saying about Thursday’s events. “We’re pleased about this outcome.”

Georgetown is set to continue its trip with a game in Shanghai on Sunday, while the Duke men’s basketball team, which is also playing exhibition games here, was scheduled to continue with its plans to meet the Chinese Olympic team in a game in Beijing on Monday.

The Hoyas’ second game in Shanghai is scheduled to be against the Taiwanese national team and conclude the team’s trip that began last Sunday in Beijing. The CBA team Georgetown is set to play on Sunday in Shanghai is to be determined and will not be Bayi, which some news organizations reported as the case in the days following Thursday night’s game.

“Once you go through an adversarial situation, and once you go through the tensions of competition that escalated to confrontation, that process a lot of times can forge a stronger bond once it’s done,” Thompson said. “As you get past the confrontation, the similarities that we have a lot of times can create a stronger bond on a go-forward basis. That’s hopefully what will happen.”

Wang reported from Shanghai. Research assistant Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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