Things have been a bit quiet here because I’ve been distracted coding up what I hope will be a fun and hopefully fruitful project. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be ready to declare it fit for presentation to the world in a a couple weeks. Until then, here’s short section from Andrew Morris’s 2002 essay “Baskteball Culture in Postsocialist China,” from the Perry Link-edited collection Popular China. The whole essay is fantastic (if a touch outdated; there’s an updated 2008 version of the essay in the Brown Journal of World Affairs which I’ll get around to as soon as I decide what else to sacrifice now that sleep is all but gone from my life), but in light of last summer’s Georgetown-Bayi brawl and the continued hand-wringing over overseas/NBA players dominating the CBA, this passage recounting the 1998 CBA All-Star Game is still especially relevant:
But the most significant subject of nationalist basketball discourse relates to the recruitment of foreign players to supplement CBA rosters. In the 1990s, each team was allowed two foreign players, and Americans occupied the overwhelming majority of these slots. Members of the basketball bureaucracy seemed to take a very ambivalent stand on the role of the CBA’s foreign players. In one lead article of Basketball, titled “To Fire Up the Basketball Market, We Need More Foreign Players,” the author told of the foreigners’ contributions and reminded readers that the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) itself employed many foreign players.
But many fans do not buy this line. In one fan forum, subscribers protested these Americans’ presence, holding that “second- and third-rate European and American players” could not truly help the development of Chinese basketball since they were only in the CBA to “sell tricks” and make money, and that they were not worth the disruption. One fan was even more dramatic, stating that “[this] is Chinese basketball. Those winning glory for the nation in international competition are the men of China, not these ‘Eight-Nation Allied Forces’ [the foreign armies that invaded the Qing Dynasty in 1900].”
The tensions present in this nationalist narrative finally came to a head at the CBA All-Star Game in Shenyang in April 1998, a contest that for the first time used an ill-advised “Chinese vs. Foreigner” format. The Foreign All-Stars won 83–80 on a last-second three-point shot by Ray Kelly of the Sichuan Blue Sword Beer Pandas, but the victorious side was quickly showered with cans and bottles, a barrage so heavy and prolonged that the state-operated CCTV was forced to cut off its broadcast. The sight of China’s national all-star team losing to these third-rate American “rejects” was evidently too much for these proud fans, whose own Shenyang Army Lions were one of the few CBA squads that did not employ foreign players. Their spontaneous demonstration against the waiyuan presence in the CBA was a clear statement against American hegemony in the Chinese basketball world.