An article on the Chinese Basketball Association and its myriad of problems caught my eye yesterday. The league has quite the assortment of problems.
From The New York Times:
As much as the Chinese love basketball and as much as NBA Commissioner David Stern dreams of China being the future of the NBA, the country is having trouble embracing the game at the highest levels of competition.
BEIJING — With 1.3 billion potential fans, China is increasingly seen as a financial promised land for N.B.A. stars through endorsement deals, and the league itself has established a robust organization here valued at $2 billion.
But China’s own professional league, the Chinese Basketball Association, has hardly enjoyed a smooth ascendance alongside this country’s basketball boom. American players and agents describe broken contracts, unpaid wages, suspicions of game-fixing and rising resentment toward foreign players. Several players have left China after failing to receive paychecks. Last month, the league announced that it lost $17 million last season, which ended in May.
Players and coaches in China’s professional league said problems escalated last season after the association loosened salary and court-time restrictions on foreign players, part of an effort to heighten the game’s appeal to China’s growing N.B.A fan base and to bring in more lucrative sponsorship deals. The association also hoped the prowess of imported players would help bolster China’s basketball prospects for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The efforts yielded conflicting results. TV ratings soared, and foreign players found starring roles — the top 15 scorers were non-Chinese, and players like Bonzi Wells and Dontae’ Jones — who had less than stellar N.B.A. careers — frequently scored more than 40 points a game. At the same time, the dominance of foreign players fueled frustration.
“Foreigners should play supporting roles, not dominate the game,” said Zhang Xiong, director of operations for the Chinese Basketball Association.
The dominance of international players is not the only systemic problem in the 18-team league. Coaches, visiting players and their agents suspect that the outcome of some games is predetermined.
Players recounted locker-room lectures in which they were told to slack off on the court. On other occasions, they said, the best players had to sit out particularly competitive games or were sent home once their teams made the playoffs.
Gabe Muoneke, an American player who joined the Yunnan Bulls last season, said he was told by a Chinese teammate that a game against the Shanghai Sharks in November was fixed.
“He said, ‘Listen, my bookie told me we’re going to win today, so don’t worry,’” Muoneke said.
Muoneke said the incident confirmed what he and other players have long suspected: that game-fixing is a problem for the Chinese league.
“It’s common knowledge that Chinese teams bribe referees,” he said.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention about the problems that the NBA is having and has had over the past couple years. There have been plenty.
At the same time though, the NBA and its place either at or near the top of the global sports scene is well-established. And then China's attempt at a league appears to be flawed in a large number of ways.
My only explanation is that professional sports in China are a curious phemonenon.
Sure, the NBA and European soccer leagues are incredibly popular over here. But when you turn on CCTV 5, the nation-wide sports channel, pretty much all you see are Olympic sports. This is still the case now, in 2009, the year after the Olympics in Beijing.
From my subjective experiences, I've seen far more international ping-pong, badminton, and diving competitions than I have coverage of Chinese professional basketball or soccer leagues. The masses here just don't seem too keen on supporting their local teams.
I can't say exactly why the Chinese prefer international sporting competitions like China vs. Cuba in women's volleyball compared to domestic professional sports leagues like Dalian vs. Qingdao in soccer. But from the times that I've glanced at CCTV 5, it appears that Chinese people prefer watching its athletes competing against other counties than competing with each other in professional leagues.