SHANGHAI — Playing for the first time since its exhibition game in Beijing against a Chinese military team ended in a benches-clearing melee that generated international attention, the Georgetown men’s basketball team received a considerably more hospitable reception here on Sunday afternoon during the second leg of its goodwill tour of China.
The Hoyas participated in the first of two games over five days in the country’s most populous city, where an overflow crowd packed the outdoor court at the Nike sports festival next to Shanghai Stadium and greeted Coach John Thompson III and his players with rousing applause.
“It’s a relief,” Thompson said. “It would be misleading to say if the last few days haven’t been trying and stressful.”
The enthusiastic response represented another step in moving beyond the acrimony immediately following Thursday’s matchup against the Bayi Rockets of the Chinese Basketball Association. That game concluded prematurely when Thompson pulled his team off the Olympic Sports Stadium court with 9 minutes 32 seconds to play, the game tied at 64 and circumstances nothing short of bedlam.
Thompson made the decision in the din of a brawl that included players wielding chairs and stanchions as weapons and unruly Chinese fans storming the court. Even when Georgetown players and staff tried to exit the playing area peacefully, they had to dodge full plastic water bottles hurled at them from the stands one night after Vice President Biden attended the opener of what was billed as the “China-U.S. Friendship Basketball Match.”
The atmosphere for Sunday’s 91-69 victory over the Liaoning Dinosaurs, also of the CBA, was as soothing as Thursday’s events were jarring. Players from both teams greeted one another warmly before tip-off during a gift exchange, and on-court activity more closely resembled what Georgetown officials had hoped for during this 10-day trip designed to promote the school’s brand internationally through athletic, cultural and educational exchange and outreach.
Even though officials called Georgetown for nearly three times as many fouls as Liaoning, they managed to keep the game under control to the point where players never offered so much as an unfriendly glance at one another. The only roughhousing came with 8:26 to play in the first half, when sophomore forward Nate Lubick got an inadvertent arm to the face while running the baseline under the basket.
But immediately after the contact, Dinosaurs forward Xu Lixiao walked over to Lubick to make sure he wasn’t hurt and offered a pat on the back. Lubick responded in kind, and the game continued without incident.
“I don’t know how grandiose you want to make it and start talking about the two countries, but our guys have some small semblance of understanding of how everything we do is watched, is viewed, and how you can have an impact on your surroundings,” Thompson said. “You can have an impact and an influence on many different facets that a lot of those guys and myself included don’t really think about until something like that happens, and you realize that the world is watching.”
Two days earlier, the Hoyas made their first public appearance since the violent exchange, unsure exactly how they would be received here. Chinese fans in one of Asia’s cosmopolitan centers soon allayed that anxiety during a youth clinic at the inaugural sports festival featuring appearances by NBA players Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, all of whom watched part of Georgetown’s game on Sunday.
One of the public address announcers at the clinic, speaking in Mandarin, reminded spectators Georgetown could have curtailed the trip but instead eagerly continued on to Shanghai. That elicited another comforting round of applause and underscored why school officials were determined to push ahead.
“We came here with some work to do, and we are now here in Shanghai to continue this work,” Georgetown President Jack DeGioia said during a reception on Saturday night at the Xijiao guest house. “Our men’s basketball program has served as the public face of Georgetown University for more than two generations. The deepest values that capture the character of our community . . . these have been the hallmarks of Georgetown basketball.”
No event better encapsulated that mission than a clinic the team conducted in Beijing last week at the East Star athletic facility. The Hoyas had arrived at the venue to work out on their own for the first time in China, but as soon as they stepped into the gym, those plans changed because a youth team happened to be practicing there, too.
Thompson turned the unexpected meeting into an impromptu basketball camp, instructing the Chinese boys and teens on dribbling and layups and inviting them to join in drills with Georgetown players. The appreciative Chinese in this basketball-crazed country then watched the Hoyas practice for approximately 90 minutes.
Georgetown players presented the youths with elastic wristbands with the school name in English and Chinese and posed for pictures before departing. Earlier in the trip, players had done more of the same while touring the Great Wall of China, where Chinese at times were more interested in American basketball players than exploring one of the world’s most historically significant structures.
“I think it’s going to go well,” Hoyas senior guard Jason Clark said. “Our friendship is getting stronger.”