Post by Jon Pastuszek
January 15, 2012
Both Chinese and Western internet has been ablaze the last couple of days after J.R. Smith’s sister, Stephanie, got into a physical confrontation with spectators midway through Zhejiang Chouzhou’s away game at Bayi Fubang on January 11th.
According to Chinese media reports filed the morning after the game, Smith’s sister, who apparently was unhappy with a no-call that went against her brother as he went up for a layup during the final minutes of the third quarter, threw a water bottle onto the court before getting into a fight with nearby spectators. Once aware of the situation, Smith ran off of the court in an attempt to climb into the stands, but was blocked by teammates and security.
After security broke everything up, Smith’s sister and Smith’s two other friend who were seated with her were escorted to the team locker room by security. But, the trouble did not end there. At the conclusion of the game, Bayi fans surrounded Zhejiang’s bus and refused to let them leave the stadium until J.R.’s sister came out and apologized. The bus stayed put for 45 minutes before fans finally left the premises.
That’s the story, at least according to the Chinese. Neither Smith, his sister or the team has publicly gone on the record to tell their side of the story since the incident.
Obviously, there’s a big problem with that because Chinese media is notoriously sensationalist and one-sided. There are elements of the story that are undoubtedly true, such as the fight itself, but the events leading up to everything are, at least in my mind, far from crystal clear.
And unfortunately, it appears that those events in question will continue to be hazy. At present, there isn’t any definitive footage of the incident that’s available for the public to see. Though the game was being broadcast on local television, the camera was positioned on the same side as J.R.’s sister. With the altercation happening directly below, the cameraman missed most of the action. And with the game’s announcer (as is usually the case with Chinese sports) calling the game from inside a studio, there was nobody to give a play-by-play from the scene.
So far, this video, taken by a fan sitting across from the section where Smith’s sister was seated, is the best video we have to work with. The video starts after Smith was fouled on the other end. Smith’s sister is dressed in purple and is seated in the first row in center court.
Though the video starts after Smith’s no call, we can see that at no point did Smith’s sister throw a bottle. We do see, however, a lot of people pointing at her. The fight starts at around the 40 second mark and J.R. can be seen trying to enter the stands.
On Friday, the Chinese Basketball Association posted a report on its official website that detailed the results of its investigation. According to the report, Smith’s sister never threw a bottle.
With 3:45 left in the third quarter, Zhejiang’s J.R. Smith went up for a fast-break layup after a steal and was blocked by a Bayi defender. The ball did not go in. Both players hit each other in mid air, causing Smith to fall down. But the referee ruled the contact was not a foul.
Because they disagreed with the ref’s call, Smith’s sister and female friend, who were seated in the courtside VIP seating section, started to yell loudly and hit the table violently, which caused a bottle of water to spill out onto spectators seated below them. Unhappy with the two’s words and actions, a woman sitting next to them tried to dissuade them from carrying on, but because of the language barrier the two sides got into a physical altercation. Stadium workers separated the two immediately.
Once Smith became aware of the situation, he raced into the stands, but his progress was blocked by teammates. Smith did not have an altercation with the crowd. Afterwards, stadium workers and security guards escorted Smith’s friends and relatives into the locker room. The game was stopped for three minutes.
At the conclusion of the game, the woman who fought with Smith’s sister appeared outside Zhejiang’s bus (along with a large crowd) to demand an apology and would not let the bus leave the stadium. However, Smith’s sister and friends were not on the bus. Bayi general manager, along with stadium workers and an on-site game manager patiently addressed the crowd. Finally, after Zhejiang’s general manager came out to apologize, the fans dispersed and the bus left the stadium.
The lesson as always — do your research and don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Still, I don’t think we can make any definitive conclusions about what exactly happened because again, neither J.R., his sister or any other member of their entourage has commented publicly to either Western or Chinese media.
Amazingly, neither Bayi, Zhejiang or Smith were fined, and both teams and the league seem to be moving on.
But what I can’t move on from is how this could have been avoided. How there wasn’t a bilingual Chinese-English speaker sitting next to J.R.’s friends and family is beyond me, especially during a road game against an inter-province rival. It’s impossible to know what was said because it’s impossible for anyone to know what was being said. I just know that it’s easy to get frustrated when people are yelling an incomprehensible language at your face. Perhaps I’m being to optimistic, but I think the situation could have been diffused if someone could have been there to bridge the language and cultural differences.
And I’m also in disbelief at how lucky we all are that this didn’t turn into a full-scale brawl. As some know, Chinese fans have a really, really, really bad reputation in regards to this kind of stuff. I’m actually amazed that the situation didn’t escalate further.
Zhejiang was off on Friday. They play at home tonight against Jiangsu. Heading into tonight’s game, Smith leads the league in scoring at 34.3 points per game and also leads the CBA in fan voting for the All-Star game, which will be played in Guangzhou at the end of February.