It’s not easy to integrate into a new sports league. Many of the fans loyal to the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and English Premier League have either been dealt those cards by their family or developed a liking at a young and impressionable age.
But, now you find yourself in China, staying up at odd hours of the night to watch your team duke it out on the other side of the world. If only there was a club you could support in your backyard…
October 21 marked the official start of the 2018 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) season, and this year you don’t want to miss out on the action. But, before you turn on the TV or head to your local arena, you may need an introduction to your resident team and their competitors. With 20 teams representing major cities and provinces, the CBA’s 48-game schedule extends all the way until March 2019.
Although China is known for having Asia’s premier basketball league, the CBA has a long way to go to rival the talent on display in the NBA. The two leagues have organized friendly matches between some of their club teams in recent years, with NBA squads pulling off some very lopsided victories (see: 144-82).
One contributing factor to that is the association’s limit on the number of foreign playmakers allowed on each team: two players (excluding Bayi, which is alotted zero due to their military heritage). On top of that, last year’s CBA draft only brought 14 fresh faces into the league (sounding more like a pickup game at the YMCA).
But don’t be dissuaded by these trivial matters, after all... ‘Ball is life.’ So take advantage of the league’s slow rise in popularity and be an early adopter rather than a follower!
Below, we give you the scoop on your local team so you can attend the next home game like a veteran fan:
Shanghai Bilibili Sharks
Founded in 1996, the ’Hai’s only CBA team, the Shanghai Sharks, is best known for assisting in the player development of Yao Ming from 1997-2002. The national icon returned to the Shanghai franchise in 2009, this time as an owner after purchasing a majority stake (he is currently the CBA president).
“People should follow the Sharks because Jimmer ‘The Mormon Megalodon’ Fredette routinely puts up 40-50 points a game which is always fun to watch,” unofficial Sharks brand ambassador ‘Donnie Does AKA The Shark Knight’ tells us when asked why Shanghai residents should support the team. “Plus, ‘The Shark Tank’ is the most electric basketball arena in the CBA and the only one that serves beer to my knowledge.” (Beer at the stadium costs RMB10 per tall can of Tsingtao).
The team narrowly made it to the playoffs as the 10th seed in the 2018 playoffs, but look to improve upon their standing this year after signing Argentina national team captain, Luis Scola, to round out a solid roster. The team currently has one championship title under their belts and are looking to add to that number this season.
Shougang Beijing Ducks
Having previously won the Mou Zouyun championship trophy on three separate occasions, the Beijing Ducks are ready for business this season. Named after the juiciest meat in all the land, the team finished in eighth place last season, knocking out the Shanghai Sharks in a three-game wildcard elimination round before coming up short against the Liaoning Flying Leopards in the quarterfinals. After parting ways with legendary baller Stephon Marbury before the start of last season, the team has played valiantly in his absence.
Beijing Beikong Fly Dragons
Founded just nine years ago, the Beijing Fly Dragons moved from Guangzhou to Chongqing before settling in the nation’s capital. They claim residence at Beijing National Indoor Stadium and added their city rival’s most notable player, Stephon Marbury, to their roster last season. Marbury played his final season in the CBA with the Fly Dragons. Now with point guard Pierre Jackson as their floor general, they look to break the barrier and get into the playoff race this year.
Having gone through multiple city and name changes, the Guangzhou Long-Lions appear to have found their permanent home in Canton. The squad takes on opponents at Tianhe Gymnasium, just a stone's throw from the Tianhe Stadium that hosts Guangzhou Evergrande, the city’s most popular football club. In last year’s heated three-game playoff against the Shenzhen Leopards, the team was swept 2-0 by their cross-province foe. Don’t expect the same result this year, as the team combines power forward Marreese Speights, a true bully in the paint who is averaging 27 points per game this season, with the quick burst of point guard Kyle Fogg.
Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers
The Guangdong Southern Tigers squad has made the CBA playoffs every year since the league launched in 1995. They play their home games at Dongguan Basketball Center but are known to spread the love by playing local games in Zhongshan and Zhuhai, among other cities, to build the team’s brand. Last year they fell just short of the CBA Finals, getting knocked out by the Liaoning Flying Leopards in a rough 4-1 series battle. This year, anchored by team captain Zhou Peng and former NBA players Yi Jianlian and Sonny Weems, the dunking Tigers look to take their playoff push one step further and take home the hardware.
Shenzhen New Century Leopards
Founded in Dongguan, this franchise took a family trip to Shenzhen and never went back. Hitting the hardwood at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre, the Leopard's squad is eager to take over this season after finishing in fifth place last year. With former Boston Celtic’s starting power forward Jared Sullinger (27 points per game this season) at the helm, the Leopards are sure to be contenders in the Southern Division.
Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions
Situated in the hotly-contested Northern Division, the Tianjin Gold Lions are in for a dog fight this season. Global basketball journeyman Taylor Rochestie and former NBA center Cole Aldrich have linked up with the Lions in hopes of finally achieving the most sought-after goal in sports: a championship title. Rochestie averaged 13.4 points and five assists per game last year in the Euroleague while Aldrich, the eleventh overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, had a diminishing role on his former NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both players are excited to compete for bragging rights in the rat race that is the northern Division. Facing off against powerhouses in Liaoning, Beijing and Shanghai will be a real test to how much the Gold Lions can handle.
Liaoning Flying Leopards
The squad in Liaoning has been on an absolute tear in recent years, taking home the crown last season and looking to repeat just like their NBA counterparts in northern California, the Golden State Warriors. Led by former NBA players Brandon Bass and Lester Hudson, this team can do some severe damage both inside and out of the paint. After announcing the resigning of Bass (20.8 points per game this season) in early August, the team is looking to repeat.
Founded in 1955, the Bayi Rockets are, by leaps and bounds, the most historic team in Chinese basketball history. The team’s founding members served in the esteemed People’s Liberation Army, which was founded on August 8 (Bayi means 8/1 in Chinese). The Bayi Rockets host opponents in Ningbo’s Youngor Arena, where they completely dominated the CBA in the '90s, winning the first six titles since the league launched in 1995.
However, without any foreign player support, Bayi has struggled to maintain their dominance in recent years, coming in last place in 2017. The team has failed to make it to the playoffs since 2010, coincidentally around the time more foreign basketballers started traveling overseas to extend their playing careers.
Now, we hope you feel more inclined to pop into the arena to see these Chinese basketball titans clash, but maybe lower your expectations if you’ve seen professional ball elsewhere. Now that you’ve got the introductions out of the way, go cheer on your ‘hometown’ team. They probably need the support.
[Cover via Weibo]