As US Vice President Joe Biden built trust with China in Beijing’s corridors of power, goodwill between the two nations unraveled on Thursday night on a nearby basketball court, where players traded kicks and punches and even a chair was thrown.
A “friendship” game between Washington’s Georgetown Hoyas and Chinese professional side the Bayi Military Rockets erupted into a brawl as the match wound down at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium. It was unclear what triggered the fighting.
Players exchanged blows, someone in the crowd flung a chair and fans tossed full water bottles at the Hoyas players and coaches as they headed to the locker room, writing off the rest of the game.
In China, state media did not report on the incident and microblogs were mostly silent as censors worked quickly to delete any references to the fight.
“Even the news about the fight between the Chinese and US basketball teams needs to be cut,” a microblogger named Yinnu said.
The brawl broke out one night after Biden, who is in Beijing on a four-day visit to discuss US-Chinese economic relations, attended a Georgetown game against another Chinese club. That game, which Georgetown won, passed without a fist fight.
The games are part of a “China-US Basketball Friendship Match” in Beijing, according to the Washington Post. The Hoyas were on a 10-day trip in China, including other scheduled matches in Shanghai.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told reporters at a briefing that the fist fight was a “small incident.”
“But it is my understanding that this morning the skies have cleared,” he said. “The two sides have made up.”
Cui said the Chinese side had gone to the airport to send off the US team, adding that “we’re happy to see this” and that both teams had exchanged mementos.
The Bayi Rockets are a professional basketball team associated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The name “Bayi” refers to Aug. 1, 1927, the founding date of the PLA.
Just as many of China’s Asian neighbors say its increasing aggression is to blame for trouble in the South China Sea, some Hoyas fans took to Twitter to accuse the Chinese team of starting the tussle.
“All that goodwill Yao Ming garnered for Chinese people in USA, GONE,” tweeted a person with the username of JAIMECITOU, referring to the recently retired Chinese basketball star. “Not first time Chinese Team fought on court ... Disgrace.”
Another user called cgallaher3 said: “All out brawl at a basketball game in China. This is why the NBA won’t expand there.”
Chinese fans weren’t impressed either.
“Does the Bayi team think they are better at Chinese kungfu than basketball and that is why they are desperate to show it off,” a Sina Weibo user named JF1113 said.
“I just don’t get it that China is fighting other people all the time. And they lose the games too,’’ another user named QimaDdou said.
Another, nego_lu, called players in China “poorly educated.”
After an estimated half-dozen individual altercations on the court, some Chinese onlookers joined the fracas, the Washington Post reported late on Thursday.
As the brawl spilled beyond the court, an unidentified Bayi player pushed Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen to the ground before repeatedly punching the sophomore guard while sitting on his chest, the paper said.
“Tonight, two great teams played a very competitive game that unfortunately ended after heated exchanges with both teams,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said in a statement on Georgetown’s Web site. “We sincerely regret that this situation occurred. We remain grateful for the opportunity our student-athletes are having to engage in a sport they love here in China, while strengthening their understanding of a nation we respect and admire at Georgetown University.”