Is the Beijing basketbrawl a precusor to something serious? Not really.
An ugly event occurred the other night in Beijing. A friendly basketball match between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Shanghai Bayi Rockets ended in a melee and an early end to the game.
The Internet is flooded with reports and information regarding the event. Here’s what I have digested from days-long reading:
The basketball aspect: The fight followed a bad and overly physical game, as well as biased officiating. There have been tens of foul calls, much more on the American team, while Chinese players exhibited confrontational behavior. By the time the game was disrupted, the Bayi rockets had 57 free throw attempts [and only 64 points in total]. Apparently, there were sentiments boiling at the court for a while, before being unleashed into a total fury during the final quarter.
The broader political context: The clash happened at a time when the vice-president of the US tours China, and when the new American ambassador to Beijing has just embarked on his mandate.
Why some people panicked? The Bayi Rockets are affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army [PLA]. The PLA is considered a political hardliner, which adopts much different approach compared to Chinese diplomats, who favor demonstration of soft power. A previous visit by a high American dignitary this year [the visit by the former Secretary of Defense], unintentionally coincided a demonstration of the new super-weapon of the PLA – the stealth combat aircraft J-20 [dubbed Annihilator]. The act, however, stirred many rumors, as many in the West interpreted it as a flexing muscles attempt of the PLA [both to the West and to the Chinese civilian authorities].
The court as a proxy battlefield? There is a strong case that male team sports often have war-like features. It especially holds truth for national sports, although, in this case as in many others, the clubs have probably internalized their role as representing their respective nations [I assume they were homogeneous in terms of players' nationality]. Moreover, it would probably go naturally for the Bayi Rockets [their name resembles the First of August, the national day of the PLA]; on the other hand, Georgetown is a DC representative, and a school from which many American civil servants and politicians have been recruited. Moreover, thinking of the rivalry between the two most powerful nations, it is easy to assume how non-sport sentiments have pushed the goodwill match into conflict.
Digression: As a person from the former Yugoslavia, I am personally very aware of the dangers of sports violence. The clash between the football titans of the Yugoslav league, Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb in 1990, which ended into a riot involving police and the game public, was by many dubbed the beginning of the grim wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.