Skip to main content

Basketball brawl mars a goodwill game between U.S., China

By Jaime FlorCruz and Xiaoni Chen, CNN
Click to play
Goodwill game ends in brawl in China
  • The brawl starts about 10 minutes left into the exhibition game
  • Irate Chinese spectators hurl plastic bottles onto the court
  • Georgetown players head for the locker room

Beijing (CNN) -- A goodwill basketball game between a U.S. college and a Chinese military team turned into an ugly brawl, leaving a black-eye on sports diplomacy.

The game between the Georgetown team, which is in on a trip to China, and the Bayi Rockets escalated into an on-court fracas Thursday.

With about 10 minutes left into the exhibition game and the score tied at 64, players exchanged blows, triggering a bench-clearing melee.

Match organizers failed to keep order on the court. Irate Chinese spectators hurled plastic bottles onto the court as the Georgetown players headed for the locker room.

The American collegiate team is on a 10-day trip as part of a program to promote goodwill through sports.

The goodwill match coincided with Vice President Joe Biden's official visit to China.

A day earlier, Biden watched another exhibition game between the Hoyas and another Chinese team. Few mainstream Chinese media reported the Thursday fracas.

The brawl forced the game to end early, Chinese newspaper Yangzi Evening News reported. It was "very physical from the beginning" and the situation deteriorated, says the report.

"All substitute players from both teams got involved after the brawl broke out."

An amateur video on YouTube shows a Chinese player pushing a U.S. player to the ground and punching him repeatedly. CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.

The Bayi Rockets is an army team that plays in the China Basketball Association, the local professional league. Most of their players serve in the People's Liberation Army.

CNN could not reach the Bayi Rockets for comment, but Georgetown head coach John Thompson III expressed his regrets.

"Tonight, two great teams played a very competitive game that unfortunately ended after heated exchanges with both teams," Thompson said. "We sincerely regret that this situation occurred."

The brawl drew comments on Chinese social media, with links to video posted on Chinese websites. However, some of the video postings have been deleted without explanation.

Many comments criticize Bayi Rocket players. "(The players') Basketball skills are not very hot but their temper is hot," says @alesfu on Tencent Weibo, China's second-largest social media.

@Chinanoe writes: "Most of sportsmen have muscular limbs with simple mind."

For decades, Chinese sports promoted the slogan "friendship first, competition second."

In recent years, however, competition for prizes, honor and fame have sometimes trumped sportsmanship.

Violence and brawls have erupted in some team sports like basketball and soccer games.

In October, an exhibition match between China and Brazil national teams ended in a bench-clearing fistfight.

The next day, the Chinese national federation apologized to Brazil. China's head coach, Bob Donewald, an American, along with three players and three match officials were suspended for a few games by the Federation of International Basketball Association.