20 years after its initial launch, the Chinese Basketball Association has become the country’s most popular sports league. Also, its most outrageous.
The People’s Republic of China launched its first-ever professional basketball league in 1995. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) produced the legendary Yao Ming and has since become the country’s most popular and profitable sports league.
Attendance has grown each year, and while Chinese gambling laws prohibit betting on sports, there is a huge black market for wagering on CBA games. As the game becomes more popular, teams have more money at their disposal and have been able to develop domestic players as well as import large numbers of former American stars.
While the CBA has certainly improved in quality over the past two decades, it’s absolutely ridiculous when compared to any North American, European, or Latin American basketball league. Here are just a few of the many reasons why:
#1: God Shammgod, Metta World Peace and Stephon Marbury
The CBA is a magnet for washed-up former NBA players. Americans currently playing in China include God Shammgod, Metta World Peace, Delonte West, Donnell Harvey, Damien Wilkins and Stephon Marbury, among many others.
Marbury has found new life after being run out of the NBA, enjoying so much popularity in China that Beijing city officials commissioned a public statue modeled on his figure. God went to China during the early 2000s and never looked back.
• Bobby Brown: 74; Michael Jordan: 69
• Beijing city officials built a statue of Stephon Marbury
• Online betting in Malaysia, China and Singapore focuses on the CBA
Much of the reason that the CBA is the focus of much online betting in Malaysia, China and Singapore is the fact that foreign players make the game much more exciting and unpredictable.
The league is packed with so many aging American re-treads that it’s starting to create friction. Chinese fans love to watch tattooed, muscular African Americans play basketball, but as nationalist sentiment grows stronger, there is more pressure to play homegrown players.
#2: Ridiculous stat-lines
An American import by the name of Bobby Brown (no, not the husband of deceased singer Whitney Houston) scored 74 points in a game while taking 52 shots. Both numbers are ridiculous; the latter is especially so. To put it in perspective, Michael Jordan’s highest-scoring game ever resulted in 69 points.
And Bobby Brown is no Michael Jordan. But that’s the nature of the game in the CBA. Competition is light and unpredictable (each team has a few good players and a lot of terrible ones), meaning that there is little between a good player and 50+ points.
Four players broke the 50-point barrier during the 2014-15 Season, including such household names (sarcasm) as Brown, Ivan Johnson, Michael Efevberha and Josh-Emmanuel Akognon.
#3: Teams don’t pay player salaries
The CBA was founded as a state-owned league in 1995, but currently most of the teams are privately owned. That doesn’t mean that they are any better managed, however. Many players, even top stars, have had to fight to get their employers to honor contracts.
In 2013 Shavlik Randolph led the CBA in scoring as a top forward for the Foshan Tigers. That didn’t stop the team from refusing to pay his full salary, and he had to sue them to get fully compensated. J.R. Smith (now of the New York Knicks) was docked $1 million in pay by Zhejiang Chouzhou due to repeatedly missing practices and team meetings.
According to Beijing-based basketball writer Aaron Crawford, these are not isolated incidents, but endemic in the CBA:
There have been incidents in the past where teams haven’t paid players…Ultimately, I don’t think the team cares about the damage to the league and this kind of attitude is a wider problem across Chinese professional sport. It’s not uncommon to hear of maverick owners in both the country’s basketball and football leagues being willing to pull the whole house down around them just to spite everyone.
#4: Officials don’t know the rules of basketball
The number one rule of officiating is: know the rules. This lesson has apparently been lost on the CBA, as countless players have complained publicly that referees miscall the most basic aspects of the game.
To be fair, the root of the problem appears to be that the league isn’t willing to spend the money to properly train a professional team of referees; officials are part-timers making peanuts, so have little incentive to work at a high level.
In 2013, former NBA star Tracy McGrady was fined $1,600 for making the following statement, which had an “adverse social impact”:
CBA has to do a better job with these officials. My team plays hard every night and the 3 blind mice take it away from us! ….This bad officiating has to change. No way I’m coming back if the officiating continues to be this errant.
These are hardly the words of a coddled star, as Crawford made clear:
The officiating is absolutely as bad as people make it out to be. It’s the little things like some refs not knowing the difference between a block and goaltending; you can see these mistakes happening far too often…The league is hesitant to reform and retrain its officials because it would be paying them more.