Friday, February 5, 2010

Fines beginning to mount for Shanxi

The Chinese Basketball Association came down hard on Shanxi today after Wednesday night's fiasco (fans tossing lighters and miscellany onto the floor), issuing a "stern, grave warning" and a fine of 110,000 yuan (80,000 levied on the Zhongyu club, 30,000 on Taiyuan's sports administration). After what happened Sunday -- i.e. more of the same -- the stiff penalty was "inevitable," according to the above-linked CBA China article.

Add that amount to the 40,000-yuan fine after Sunday and what you have is a dire situation. If Shanxi's fans can't control themselves -- in other words, if the cops in Taiyuan don't prevent another maelstrom -- we may be seeing radical measures. Locking out fans? I wouldn't be surprised. When the revenue from increased ticket sales is being funneled into the CBA's coffers, what's the point of trying to sell additional tickets?

The team's owner said one of his purposes for bringing in Stephon Marbury was to "pay back our fans" (not the greatest of translations, admittedly; probably he was saying "give back to" our fans), but looks like the fans are after something else. Lose 15 times and win only four? Payback time.

And, judging from what I saw on Wednesday, when the "increased security" seemed to have an incendiary rather than placating effect, the Taiyaun police are a joke. (They took the opportunity to harass journalists.) How are they supposed to maintain order inside a rowdy barn of an arena, where pent-up frustration and baijiu meet, when they can hardly do their job in the real world?

This is Marbury's home for the next month and a half, folks.

To give you a better idea of what the former Knickerbocker's up against, I'd like to excerpt from an email sent to me by Jon Pastuszek, a baller who's spent significant time in China learning Mandarin and coaching basketball:

For sure, Marbury had no idea what he was getting himself into. If had any grand illusions before coming to Taiyuan, I think he's going to figure out quickly that this situation isn't going to work out. For one, Taiyuan sucks. I'd argue that it's the worst CBA city of the lot, though Urumqi, given the current political climate, probably sucks too. But, second -- and I think this is the biggest reason -- the CBA sucks for foreigners.

A personal anecdote: I was playing in a 4v4 half-court game (unfortunately, the standard in China) against a group of Chinese who considered themselves to be good players. As is the case when playing Chinese (I'm 6-4, have played ball my whole life), they came out with something to prove and played with a lot of energy. Much to their anger, I was unguardable that day, and my performance was punctuated by a dunk on some dude's head. After I had landed on the ground, I let out a yell, which was not overly flamboyant in my mind. After all, I did dunk on this guy, right? Anyways, as I turned around to get back into my spot to check the ball, my victim puffed out his chest and got in my face. Shortly, I was surrounded by his whole crew and a shoving/yelling match between my team of foreigners and our Chinese opponents ensued. I've been in China long enough and seen way too many fights between foreigners and Chinese to know that we could have been in some serious trouble if things escalated. So, I said "sorry" picked up our ball and left.

I learned two things that day. First, don't dunk on Chinese people. But, second, Chinese people really don't like being humiliated at the hands of a foreigner. As China is becoming more willing -- and more capable -- to stand up to the world, Chinese are also more confident in themselves in comparison to foreigners. This pertains in basketball as well, the CBA included. These teams pay foreign players a lot of money to come in and score and the players respond by putting up 30+ a night. But how does that make their Chinese opponents, most of whom are being paid $50 a week, feel? How does it make their teammates feel?

Frankly, they're pissed. They're pissed that some stupid, selfish, arrogant laowai is shredding them up on a nightly basis. And when you're that pissed, and you feel that disrespected and humiliated, you look for reasons to retaliate -- a sneer, a yell, arguing with the official or any other kind of emotion by a foreigner on the court can be interpreted as some sort of personally demeaning attack on the integrity of a Chinese. And they take out their aggression on the foreigners by getting in their faces and hacking the hell out of them up and down the court for 48 minutes while the Chinese officials turn a blind eye. The foreign players in turn get angry, and what you have is an extremely volatile relationship between Chinese and foreign players that sometimes boils over in violence ( And I think that's one of the main reasons why foreigners don't like playing in China.

A great bit of perspective on the challenges facing all the foreign basketball players in the CBA, but especially Marbury, who's expected to lead a very bad team to the playoffs (his words, not mine) in addition to being awesome, all the time, on and off the court. His best option may be to stay locked away all day, but that sort of reinforces the "lone wolf" image, doesn't it? It also can't be good for his psyche. And that leads into the question everyone's asking: when will all that -- specifically, the frustration from knowing he has ceded control of his life to foreigners in a place that is devastatingly foreign -- come to a head, result in a meltdown, cause an international incident?

On the bright side, fans still like him, and will continue to as long as he puts up numbers like he did Wednesday (15 points on 15 assists):

How do you feel about his 15-assist effort vs. Guangdong?

49.53 percent: Lone Wolf revealed his superstar abilites.

It should be mentioned that had Marbury brought his outside shooting touch to China (he's 1 for 13 from three-point range after two games), his team just may be 2-0 with him in the lineup. Just saying: there's hope yet for a dramatic turnaround in his team's fortunes.

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