With the Georgetown Hoyas casually proclaimed by the fans as Champions of the Bahamas on their recent foreign tour, and diplomatic relations with China ever-present in the news, it seems like the perfect time to revisit the news-making international incident when John Thompson III’s squad toured The People’s Republic.
One game on that trip, against the Chinese Basketball Association’s Bayi Rockets in Beijing, was particularly legendary for a brawl and the ensuing media circus. Eight years ago, Hire Esherick clairvoyantly billed the exhibition game as huge:
Georgetown has announced today that the men’s basketball team will be taking on the Bayi Rockets on August 18th. Exciting, I know. But wait, there is more! The Bayi Rockets is not only the most storied franchise in the Chinese Basketball Association, its players are also part of the People’s Liberation Army.
That’s right sports nuts, our beloved Hoyas will be taking on select members of the world’s largest military force. And the team is really, really tall, boasting six players 6’10’’ or taller. To say this goes beyond basketball is an understatement. This is a clash of political ideologies, global policies and dinner utensils. This is our generation’s Miracle on Ice and Rocky IV.
- Jason Clark SR G 14.0 Pts 4.1 Reb 1.8 Ast
- Hollis Thompson JR F 12.8 Pts 5.5 Reb 1.5 Ast
- Henry Sims SR C 11.6 Pts 6.0 Reb 3.5 Ast
- Otto Porter FR F 9.7 Pts 6.8 Reb 1.5 Ast
- Markel Starks SO G 7.1 Pts 1.6 Reb 1.6 Ast
- Greg Whittington FR F 4.3 Pts 2.9 Reb 0.9 Ast
- Nate Lubick SO F 3.5 Pts 3.9 Reb 2.0 Ast
- Jabril Trawick FR G 3.4 Pts 1.3 Reb 0.5 Ast
- Mikael Hopkins FR F 2.4 Pts 1.1 Reb 0.4 Ast
- Aaron Bowen FR F 1.3 Pts 0.4 Reb 0.1 Ast
- Tyler Adams FR C 2.5 Pts 2.3 Reb 0.3 Ast
- John Caprio SO G 0.2 Pts 0.5 Reb 0.3 Ast
- Moses Ayegba
There were an estimated half-dozen individual altercations on the court, and eventually some Chinese onlookers joined the fracas, including one wielding a stanchion. As the brawl spilled beyond the baseline, an unidentified Bayi player pushed Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen through a partition to the ground before repeatedly punching the sophomore guard while sitting on his chest.
Georgetown senior center Henry Sims had a chair tossed at him by an unidentified person, and freshman forward Moses Ayegba, who was wearing a brace on his right leg, limped onto the court with a chair in his right hand. According to Georgetown officials, Ayegba had been struck, prompting him to grab a chair in self-defense.
Play had to be halted in the third quarter because matters were getting so truculent. There were fouls, arguments, technical fouls. Then Clark went to the floor with a hard foul, and something was said, and then someone was shoved. Who or what really started it? We will never fully know. It’s entirely possible that the Hoyas shared equal responsibility. But Thompson, to his immense credit, took the boil out of the water. He not only got his group off the floor and directly onto a bus back to their hotel, he quickly released a statement that, while refusing to apologize, was so gentlemanly it abridged any discussion of fault.
What was supposed to be a friendly exhibition between the Georgetown basketball team and a Chinese pro team descended into a chaotic brawl Thursday, as players threw punches and chairs at one another.
According to the Washington Post, the benches-clearing melee erupted in the fourth quarter as Georgetown played the Bayi Rockets of the Chinese Basketball Association. A Georgetown University spokesman told CBS Sports no one was injured, calling it a “tense situation.” The game was unusually physical, with 28 fouls assessed to Georgetown and 11 to the Rockets, according to the report. When Georgetown guard Jason Clark was fouled hard by Rockets forward-center Hu Ke, the two got into a shoving match, and the bedlam began.
The question of who deserves more blame, however, is immaterial. Whenever brawls like these get out of control, both sides are usually responsible. And the images are damaging for both sides. What’s clear from the video is that, at one point, a Chinese player is seen repeatedly punching one of the Georgetown players. The Chinese players wielded chairs, and one Georgetown player reportedly had one thrown at him. According to the Post, a Georgetown player walked on the court with a chair, but the team said he did so in self-defense. After Georgetown coach John Thompson III ordered his team to leave the floor with nine and a half minutes to go in the game, the crowd threw plastic bottles at the team.
But there’s also a picture of a Georgetown player making a fist where he could be trying to make peace. There’s one of another player clutching the face of a Chinese player.
Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown at the time who traveled as part of the University’s official delegation that accompanied the men’s basketball team to China, provided some insights:
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 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 ... exchanged gifts at the end of the meeting and there were no hard feelings on either side.
As a Georgetown Hoyas fan, I am not happy with what happened but I am proud of the Hoyas for not backing down. Call this my biased side. I mean, look at this damn picture. There is a guy in khaki shorts stomping on Jason Clark. I don’t think the Hoyas had a choice but to fight back. After years of being labelled soft by every rival fan and biased media outlet, I am glad to see some fight in the young Hoyas. Let the media spin this anyway they want, it is not a black eye on the program and it will not start World War III. Chinese teams have a history of playing aggressive and starting fights, apparently even in exhibition games...
UPDATE: Now that we have video of what actually happened, Hoya F’in Saxa is my official stance. The way the Bayi Rockets acted is disgraceful and pathetic and as a Georgetown alum and fan I am proud of the way the Hoyas handled themselves. They fought back when pressed but mostly tried to remove themselves from the situation.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the incident was this animation: