The Georgetown University Hoyas men’s basketball team’s trip to China gained international attention as video of the unfortunate fight between the Hoyas and the Bayi Rockets went viral around the world. There have since been a plethora of stories written about the incident, many with factual errors and misinterpretations. I offer an account of the events as someone who travelled with the team throughout the trip to Beijing and Shanghai, including the fateful game with the Bayi Rockets.
The purpose of the trip was to build upon Georgetown’s growing academic linkages with China by showcasing the University’s best-known brand, the Hoyas basketball team, in a series of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. After being mobbed for pictures with Chinese young people as they visited the Great Wall and Forbidden City, the Hoyas played a sedate and friendly game against the Shanxi Brave Dragons. US Vice President Joe Biden, traveling to China for meetings with the future leader of China Xi Jinping, dropped by the game on his arrival in the country, and amiably engaged the Chinese audience at the stadium, exchanging jokes and high fives. The evening was nothing short of ideal.
By contrast, the mood at the game the following evening with the Bayi Rockets, a professional basketball team sponsored by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was tense, and the game was very physical from the start. The PLA sent a spectator section of soldiers who chanted loud, disciplined cheers every time the Rockets scored. There was some scuffling among players during the game, prompting several technical fouls, and a bizarre moment when one of the Bayi players approached and started yelling at Georgetown Coach John Thompson III for some unknown reason (Thompson ignored it, but Georgetown players became very upset at this).Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The foul count was imbalanced (at one point 28 against Georgetown and 11 against Bayi), but other NCAA teams playing in China like Duke experienced similar problems. Unfortunately, that’s what you get when you play in China. The Rockets, former Chinese Basketball Association champions, played to win, and though this was billed as a ‘friendship match,’ competitive juices got flowing, emotions got high, and things got out of hand. At the start of the fourth quarter, a sequence of foul-plagued plays involving mad scrambles for loose balls led to the fracas. The decision was made to pull the Georgetown players off the court and alumni out of the stands onto awaiting buses for safety reasons once the crowd started throwing debris onto the court in the direction of the players.
Despite the widespread play of the video clips in the United States, things calmed down considerably after the event. No one was seriously hurt. The coaches and player representatives from the two teams were immediately in contact after the incident to express sincere regrets and worked together through the night to find a proper way of reconciling. Senior levels of the Chinese government offered to help the team in any way possible. The Bayi coach and two players the following morning met Coach Thompson and two of the upperclassmen on the team. It was a very friendly meeting and they talked about future events where Chinese young people might come to participate in summer basketball clinics in the United States. The two groups exchanged gifts at the end of the meeting and there were no hard feelings on either side.