March 27 was a Black Sunday for the CBA's North Division teams. The Beijing Ducks were trounced by the Bayi Rockets 132-112 in their interdivisional quarterfinal.
Later, after a tough game produced a 68-68 draw in the first three quarters, the South Division's 4th-placed Yunnan Bulls edged out the North's leaders Liaoning Hunters in a 15-12 fourth quarter to win the last ticket for the semifinals.
With early defeats for the Jilin Northeast Tigers and Xinjiang Flying Tigers, for the first time all four North Division teams were stopped in their tracks in the quarterfinals.
Imbalance in strength and investment
The teams from the South Division appear to be more powerful and mature, with the rising Jiangsu making a record by winning 20 straight games in the regular season. And Guangdong Southern Tigers, last year's champions, have four players on the national team while the army's Bayi Rockets have rich playoff experience and still dominate the league, winning seven titles over the past nine seasons.
In the North, although Beijing boasts the newly returned ex-NBA center Menk Bateer and underwent many hardships to progress from the league's 10th place last year to North runner-up this time, their performance is inconsistent and the inexperienced young backups need more time to gain strength. The same situation also exists in the Liaoning team as both Jiang Xingquan, head coach of the Liaoning Hunters, and his prentices said the failure was due to players' unstable mentality.
Another reason for the imbalance between South and North comes from the different financial abilities of the teams and their sponsors.
In the early stage of the CBA league, Liaoning was the only team who could challenge the Bayi Rockets. As time went by, the team gradually waned as power forward Wang Shouqiang and several talented players quitted owing to salary disputes. Other big names once on the Liaoning roster include Li Chunjiang, head coach of the Guangdong Tigers, and Li Qun, captain and starting point guard of the Guangdong team.
Jilin had also been plagued by financial shortages and couldn't even afford players' salaries before manager-player Sun Jun paid them out of his own pocket.
"We had a pretty gifted player, just 17. But he has been lured to Guangdong," a local sports journalist said after Jilin lost to Guangdong 124-103 on March 26 and was eliminated 0-2 on aggregate.
Regulation revised, Beijing beaten
Before the 2004-2005 season, the CBA basketball administration center had unveiled a regulation stipulating that in the interdivisional playoffs the first of each best-of-three games would be held in the home of the lower seed, and the second in the higher seed's, with team rankings based on the first stage of the post season, the divisional playoffs.
However, the authority made a sudden revision several days before the interdivisional playoffs, saying the standings would still accord with the positions from the regular season. North team Beijing Ducks were the only victims, as they had a home game snatched away.
The new regulation undermines the meaning of the divisional championships, and many people have questioned it. The administration center explained on the eve of the interdivisional playoffs that "the change will ensure the concentration of every team on each game of the regular season."
Some critics believe the center gave covert assistance to the Rockets with an additional home game, since host teams usually fare better with the umpire and have more support from the fans. Questions have been raised about whether Bayi, the army's team with a glorious past, no foreign imported players and very different administration system, could be capable of influencing the administration center.
In the NBA, each club has its own management body, and so do the referees. But for the 10-year-old CBA league, the administrators are reluctant to give consideration to conflicting interests and the result can be far from professional.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao April 1, 2005)