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Shark Jam: A Night At A CBA Game

A night at a Chinese professional basketball game, complete with 10rmb beers, washed-up NBA players, cheerleaders, and cuddly mascots.
Nov 25, 2014 | 13:38 Tue

The ayi at the concessions stand wouldn't let us take unopened cans of beer into the arena. She said people throw them at the players. So we could only get three cans of Tsingtao at a time, for 10rmb each, poured into a harmless paper cup. Later, when someone threw a Subway sandwich, a fistful of change, and a bag of popcorn onto the court, I understood.

Welcome to the CBA, a.k.a. the Crazy Basketball Association, a.k.a. The China Basketball Association. Our team is The Sharks, owned by Mr. Yao Ming. Although CBA teams have English names like Sharks or Eagles, their Chinese names are the names of their sponsoring companies. So it's the "Shanghai Maxxis" (a tire manufacturing company) on the scoreboard. Imagine if in America we had the Los Angeles Staples vs. The Minnesota Best Buys.

I recently watched the Shanghai Sharks/tire company lose to the Liaoning (insert some state-owned pharmaceutical company here) medicine company. Instead of a pill bottle, their mascot is the Flying Leopard, which looks like a straight-up sexual predator.

[Note: not our photo – this came from somewhere in the ether and we're trying to track down the source]

I'm riding for shark bro. He looks friendly.

Going to a CBA game is a bit like watching the state finals for high school basketball in America, but with cheap beer, the Chinese song "Xiao Pingguo", and people yelling "Ai ya!" and "O yo…!" It's not an unpleasant way to spend a Friday night. At the game we attended, Liaoning narrowly defeated Shanghai, who have been on a bit of a losing streak lately. A lot of Liaoning fans came out, and they got noticeably rowdier than the Shanghai group. People were gambling for sure. One guy, presumably from the north, said "I lost money but at least the north won." Someone else loudly accused the ref of being paid off. I wondered if games were fixed, but when I asked other fans, the general consensus was no.

Many CBA teams have a few imports who have either finished their tenure at the NBA or are in some kind of transition phase. The Beijing Ducks, for example, have Stephon Marbury, who previously played for the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, and the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons. In Shanghai, we've had winners like Gilbert "guns in the locker room" Arenas and now Michael "Smokin' That Loud" Beasley.

At the game we attended, Delonte "three guns in my three-wheeled motorcycle" West was still playing, but the Sharks cut him last week and signed American military vet Bernard James. Apparently Delonte was averaging 12.5 points per game—not much for an NBA pro in the Chinese leagues.

The pro players definitely stand out, but they don't dominate. It's not like LeBron playing against fifth graders or something. Some of the local players were draining threes and busting shots in the imported players' faces.

The gameplay here seems faster, with fewer time-outs than back home. In between games some cheerleaders come out to dance and throw sweatbands and T-shirts into the crowd. Some of these girls look like they could be on an actual high school cheerleading squad. There's also a laowai MC keeping things hype on the m-i-c. "WHEN I SAY SHANGHAI YOU SAY SHARKS!!!!"

This grandma was there to capture all the action with her doghead lens. Pro photographer vest? Check.

And…this character, who just keeps popping up in ridiculous situations.

The Sharks/Tire Company home is the Yuanshen Sports Stadium, which also has a legit skate park, a bunch of soccer fields, and possibly the biggest auntie/uncle dance party ever. And it's right by a metro station. Around the corner, you'll find several restaurants and some dubious-looking massage parlors. Colorful neighborhood by Pudong standards.

To get there, take metro line 4,9, or 2 to Century Ave and transfer to line 6, go one stop north to the Yuanshen Stadium station and take exit two. You'll know you're headed in the right direction, because a lot of scalpers will greet you. "Good seats!" Legit tickets start at 60rmb and you can basically sit wherever you want, provided no one else has a legitimate claim to your seat. I guess the place was around 30% full when we went.

So, once you've got a ticket, you step into the arena like Gang Starr and go through a security check. They say you can't bring bottles in but we managed to sneak a grape juice through. Around the corner you'll find a store slinging merch like jerseys, shoes, and t-shirts. Unfortunately, the designs aren't great. Prefer the old school Shanghai Sharks logo, like the one my friend Kaine saw a character wearing on season four of The Wire.

Overall, this was a fun start to a Friday night evening. Going there felt like a proper Shanghai adventure, which I've been missing lately. Some cool cultural synthesis going on here. Plus, all the games start at 7.30pm and finish around 9.30pm, so you've still got a lot of time to hit the city afterward, or just have a weird night in Pudong.

Here's their home-game schedule for the rest of the season:

November 26: Shanghai vs. Qingdao
November 28: Shanghai vs. Jiangsu
December 5: Shanghai vs. Foshan
December 7: Shanghai vs. Guangdong
December 10: Shanghai vs. Sichuan
December 17: Shanghai vs. Zhejiang
December 24: Shanghai vs. Xinjiang
December 26: Shanghai vs. Beijing
January 2: Shanghai vs. Tianjin
January 4: Shanghai vs. Shandong
January 7: Shanghai vs. Tongxi
January 18: Shanghai vs. Fujian
January 21: Shanghai vs. Dongguan
January 30: Shanghai vs. Bayi
February 1: Shanghai vs. Chongqing

Again, tickets start at 60rmb and you can get them online or in person at the venue [Update: Official tickets at the stadium start at 120rmb]. If you're going there without a ticket, you probably wanna show up at least a half hour before the game because navigating the place may prove confusing.


All photos by Brandon McGhee