It has been one week since the Chinese Basketball Association tournament returned to the country following the COVID-19 global pandemic. With the absence of concrete plans for China’s top-level football tournament to start its long-delayed season, the CBA tournament remains to be the only professional league that is currently continuing their seasons in the country.
The CBA games are now scheduled in some completely different formats from their usual practices. Instead of having teams traveling around the country to play the traditional home-away game style season, the tournament is now playing in closed arenas in two Chinese cities, Qingdao and Dongguan with limited access for media reporters, broadcasting crews, and game officials. The empty seats are now filled with stuffed animals, team jerseys, as well as a digital screen showing cheerleaders and fans who are watching the games online.
Teams are expected to finish their regular season in an intensive schedule by playing one game every other day. According to the latest announcements, the CBA league will conclude its first portion of the regular season games on July 6th and the entire regular-season games on July 27th. The top 12 teams will enter the playoffs and will play a one-game elimination series until they reach the semi-finals. For the semi-finals and finals, the remaining teams will compete in a best-of-three series for this year’s championship title.
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For the 20 teams in the CBA tournament, games in the past week are the reflection of their readiness to be in the next stages of the games. The CBA tournament was significantly changed as fewer foreign players were able to return to the country, leaving more opportunities for young Chinese players to participate and compete at a higher level of play. For some of the NBA veterans, having better performance in game play is crucial for their future careers not only to secure contracts with a CBA team, but also for a chance to return to the NBA.
Here are some of the highlights from the first week of CBA’s return:
Bayi to become the first team eliminated from the playoffs
Defeated by the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, the Bayi Rockets became the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs in the CBA tournament. The 79-96 loss shut out Bayi’s hope to enter the playoffs as the team now has a 2-32 record and rank last in the league.
This is the ninth consecutive season for the Bayi team to miss the playoffs. Different from all other teams in the CBA tournament, the Bayi rockets are composed of soldier athletes and are not eligible to recruit foreign players to compete in the now highly professionalized CBA tournament. Despite having success in the early days of the CBA tournament with 8 championships in total, the basketball team backed by the Chinese military gradually lost its competitiveness in the league not only because of the inability to recruit foreign players, but also domestic talent. Bayi claimed its last championship title in 2007. Despite having former NBA and Chinese National team player Wang Zhizhi serving as the team’s head coach, Bayi remains to solve its struggles to become competitive in the league.
For basketball fans around the world, the Bayi team is perhaps most remembered for the brawl against Georgetown University in a friendly match back in 2011 during which a loose ball foul was missed by officials and confrontation ensued.
The Bayi teams in various sports are the remaining products of China’s past practices to train athletes to prepare for Olympics Games and other international competitions. Many notable Chinese professional athletes, such as the two-time Olympic badminton gold medalist, Lin Dan, and the legendary Chinese football player, Hao Haidong, came through the Bayi teams at different stages of their careers.
Bayi teams remain competitive in sports such as weightlifting, badminton, and table tennis, but in sports with professional players such as basketball and football, the Bayi teams are losing their competitiveness. The Bayi football team disappeared from the Chinese professional league in 2003 due to operational changes. And with the current Bayi basketball squad struggling in China’s professional league, it becomes quite likely for the former 8-time champion to leave the CBA tournament.
Jeremy Lin only scored 9 points against an all-Chinese team
Former NBA veteran and 2019 NBA Champion Jeremy Lin signed with the Beijing Ducks earlier in 2019 as he remained unsigned by any NBA teams in the 2019 off-season. Positioned as the team’s starting point guard and acting as a key player, Jeremy Lin immensely helped the Beijing team prior to the league suspension.
The former NBA champion was able to score 22.9 points per game in the Chinese league, but seeing his time in the CBA as an opportunity to prove his ability to return to the NBA, Jeremy Lin has struggled in the games after the pandemic. The former NBA veteran struggled particularly in the game against the Zhejiang Lions, with only 9 points against the team without any foreign players on the squad.
The Beijing Ducks is one of the few teams with two foreign players remaining in its squad following the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in March, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs placed a travel ban against foreign passport holders in an effort to stop transmission of the virus. With no concrete timelines for the league to return at the time, many foreign players left the country after game were suspended in January, and either were not able to or willing to return to China as the league resumed on June 20th.
In the four games after the pandemic, Jeremy Lin scored 13 points against the Liaoning Flying Leopards, 15 points against the Nanjing Tongxi Monkey Kings, 22 points against the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, and 9 points against the Zhejiang Lions. The 31-year-old guard continues to miss the mark with his 3-point attempts, with only 4 made shots out of 18 attempts in the four games. The Beijing Ducks went 2-2 in the past four games and are currently ranked 7th in the league.
It is safe to say that Jeremy Lin is still one of the best players on this Beijing Ducks team, but as a foreign player who is earning a significantly higher salary than the rest of the team, Lin is falling short when it comes to meeting the expectations of not only potentially returning to the NBA, but also staying with the Ducks. For CBA teams in need of foreign players for the point guard and shooting guard positions, their expectations are to have players who have the ability to score, pass, and play for long periods of time in the games.
Jeremy Lin has not delivered the performances that can match these expectations, and the NBA veteran is now failing to hit long-range shots once again. To improve his game and to have another chance to return to the NBA, Lin needs to hit more of his shots and increase his scoring overall.
Is O.J Mayo ready to return to the CBA?
Following the loss against the Beijing Ducks, the 5th place Liaoning Flying Leopards activated O.J Mayo to play in its squad. Mayo played two games for Liaoning and scored 28 points in both games with more than 40 minutes of playing time on the court. (Update: On June 27th, O.J. Mayo scored 32 points and 10 rebounds for his team against the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, despite losing the game 90-101.)
The 3rd overall pick out of the 2008 NBA draft had some notable achievements in his 8 years in the NBA. Mayo made the 2009 NBA All-rookie team and had a 40-point career-high game against the Denver Nuggets in his sophomore year.
In 2016, Mayo was terminated by the NBA following a drug violation. The ban lasted for three years, making him eligible to return to the league in the 2018-2019 season. In 2018, Mayo restarted his professional basketball career in Puerto Rico with the Atléticos de San Germán, and then joined the Dacin Tigers in Taiwan in October 2018. In 2019, Mayo spent some time in a second-tier Chinese basketball team Hunan Yongsheng before returning to Taiwan once again.
O.J Mayo became the alternative foreign player for Liaoning as the team lost both players due to the global pandemic. It is too early to say if Mayo is able to return to his prime days in the NBA, yet the past two games showed some positive results for the 32-year-old in this very special CBA season.
Since his forced departure from the NBA in 2016, Mayo was not able to secure a stable contract with any professional teams. His performance in Liaoning could potentially open some new opportunities for the NBA veteran to rebound from his struggles. As one of the most popular teams in the league, Mayo now has more opportunities to showcase his ability together with the team in the packed CBA season in 2020.
National Team Player getting suspended for violating CBA public health protocols
The CBA league handed out its first disciplinary action after the league restarted on June 20th against Chinese National Basketball team player Zhao Rui from the Guangdong Southeast Tigers.
The 24-year-old was accused of violating public health protocols by getting too close to staff with different credentials. According to the CBA’s latest rules on containing the potential spread of COVID-19, players, coaches, and referee officials, all of whom hold green-colored credentials, are not allowed to have close interactions with individuals such as reporters and facility support staff who hold different-coloured credentials.
Zhao will be banned from playing the next three games. The 24-year-old and his team, apologized on social media following the disciplinary measure.
As the only operating professional league in the country, the future schedules of the CBA league remains fragile and are at constant risks of shutting down again if there are changes in the COVID-19 pandemic within the country.
Zhao Rui started his CBA career in 2016, and represented China in the Asian Game