Of the headline-grabbing news provided by Chinese basketball recently -- the women's defeat of South Korea to win the 21st Asian Championship, the men's finishing 4-1 overall in their friendlies with the US All-Stars -- the apparent use of a talented point guard as a bargaining chip in a dispute between a Beijing club and the basketball administration center has to top them all.
The month-long wrangle between the governing body and Beijing Aoshen, suspended from the China's Basketball Association (CBA) league since last year, ended on July 1 when its request to withdraw its application to take part in the new season was granted.
Most CBA teams are affiliated to local sports bureaus, but Aoshen was established in 1997 with real estate company funding, putting it beyond the administration center's control. It applies for admission to the league annually, but the center cannot interfere with contracts between the club and its players. As a mid-ranking team in the CBA league, its best position has been fourth place during the 1998-99 season.
Aoshen and the center locked horns in May 2004 when the CBA called up 2.05-meter Sun Yue to play for the national U-20 squad. The club thought the move might weaken the strength of the team and declined on account of Sun's Achilles tendon. Their refusal led to their suspension from the first division for a year.
In early June this year, in order to prepare for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Stankovic Continental Champions Cup and the Asian Championships in Qatar, the national team, led by Lithuanian Jonas Kauslauskas, called Sun for a second time, but failed to reach the club or the player. The CBA warned, "If he doesn't show up by June 21, the deadline for redistributing players, he will be given up."
On June 17, Zang Changhong, Aoshen's deputy general manager, went to the center "to negotiate," saying that Sun would only be allowed to play on the national side if Aoshen was reinstated in the CBA league this year.
On June 21, the center responded that the deadline for Sun's registration could be postponed and they hoped to see the player sooner rather than later.
On June 23, Sun was finally released by his club, joined the national team in Guangzhou and was put on court in a friendly with the US All-Stars.
On June 30, negotiations between Aoshen and the center broke down as the club refused to apply for a place in the 2005-2006 CBA season because they had to concentrate on organizing the Straits Cup with seven Taiwan-based professional teams from November 2005-April 2006.
On July 1, the CBA held a news conference in Beijing, saying they respected the club's decision but that it would be unfavorable for their players' development and that they felt "regretful."
CBA admission rules stipulate that if one team wants to return to the top league, it has to play two seasons in the second division, China's Basketball League (the CBL), so the earliest time for Aoshen's reinstatement would be 2008.
Sun is still on the national team, but he and other Aoshen players will be sidelined from the top league for at least three years.
"Sun will not be affected, and we've guaranteed to support the national team any time in the future," Aoshen official Zang announced on July 3.
It is unclear whether Aoshen gave up the opportunity to regain their place in the CBA league because they were reluctant to meet the 29 admission requirements in just one month or because they objected to losing the right to sign foreign-related contracts for players on the national team.
Thirty-eight games are planned for the Straits Cup in Taiwan, Fujian and Beijing.
"We were planning to start in November, but now the date might be brought forward to August," said an official from Taiwan-based Sina Lions. They and four other clubs have been involved in disputes with the Chinese Taiwan Basketball Association since June, threatening to withdraw.
A high-ranking anonymous expert from Taiwan dismissed the Straits Cup as wishful thinking and said "nothing tangible is in sight."
"To establish the league, they have to set up a new administrative company. But the environment of professional basketball in Taiwan is not ripe and nobody wants to waste money," he said.
In his opinion, it is more likely that Aoshen will stay one or two months in Taiwan, as they did in January this year, to play a series of friendlies, rather than in a new league.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, July 11, 2005)