Former NBA player Stephon Marbury looks on after his final game for the Chinese Basketball Association's Beijing Fly Dragons in Beijing on Feb 11, 2018. (PHOTO / AFP)
BEIJING - As the 2017-2018 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league lowers its curtain, Guangsha ended the season top of the league table after the regular season.
This is the third different league table winner in three years; a testament to the competitiveness of the CBA.
The rise of Guangsha has been quite remarkable. Thanks to Hu Jinqiu, Zhao Yanhao and other domestic players and the consistent performances of Courtney Fortson and Ioannis Bourousis, they stormed to a 31-7 season. This is the first time the team has ended the regular season on top of the league table since they joined the CBA in 2006.
Yi Jianlian of the Guangdong Southern Tigers slams against the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in last season's CBA Finals. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
After defeating old rival Guangdong in the last round, Liaoning secured the second position, while Guangdong and Shandong, led by Yi Jianlian and Ding Yanyuhang respectively, are third and fourth on the table.
The league has witnessed teams set up long title winning streaks before. Bayi won six championships between 1995 and 2001 and Guangdong Southern Tigers racked up four championships between 2007 and 2011. However, predicting a final champion today is becoming increasingly difficult. The gap between the leader and the 10th placed team has never been so close.
Liaoning's Guo Ailun (left) drives against Guangsha’s Courtney Fortson during a CBA basketball game between Liaoning and Guangsha on Jan 2, 2018, in Hangzhou. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
As strong as Guangsha is, they lost to Liaoning and Guangdong in the regular season. Xinjiang, the defending champion is only sixth on the table. Teams are playing with greater hope as the number of playoff spots has been increased from eight to ten. Today the CBA enters the era of the Warring States.
In the battlefield, there will always be legendary fighters, and Stephon Marbury just finished his final chapter. Back in 1996, the No.4 pick of the NBA Draft would never have imagined that he would end up with a 22-year-career, longer than Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. When he said goodbye he was surrounded by tears and applause from his Chinese fans.
Ding Yanyuhang of Shandong (right) passes the ball during a CBA basketball match between Shangdong and Shenzhen on Nov 15, 2017. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
After an up and down career in the NBA, the lone wolf of New York found comfort across the ocean. In the splendid nine years in CBA, he is undoubtedly the league's best foreign player. He won Beijing three championships and delivered countless heart-stopping moments. He has now become half a Beijinger who wants to contribute to the development of Chinese basketball.
The CBA is no longer a nursing home for slack foreign players. "Mr.55 Points" Brandon Jennings was replaced after only 13 games and former Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones was sacked by Qingdao after nine appearances. Foreign players in the CBA need to learn that they can't slack off here. Courtney Fortson of Guangsha averaged 31.1 points, 12 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 2.7 steals and 10th placed Shanghai was dragged into the playoffs by one person; Jimmer Fredette, who averages 37.4 points per game.
The most pleasant surprise last season was the domestic MVP title of Ding Yanyuhang. After reloading in the NBA summer league, Ding became even more eye-catching this season. He again led the domestic players in scoring to consolidate his status. The steady performance of Yi Jianlian cannot be overlooked. The 31-year-old ranked second in scoring with 24.2 points per game and first in rebounds with 13.3 points per game.
Aolong's Stephon Marbury (second left) goes to the basket during a CBA basketball game against Shandong in Beijing on Oct 31, 2017. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
After Ding and Yi, there are rising stars chasing the pack. In his third CBA season, Hu Jinqiu of Guangsha contributed 19.7 points per game and became player of the week five weeks in a row. Wu Qian kept refreshing his scoring record including a 42-point game in the 37th round.
The growth of the young talent was a result of their own endeavor but also the reform of Chinese basketball. A brand-new training system of China's national basketball team contains two teams led by a double-coaching system before they merge into one in 2019, offering Hu and Wu opportunity to train with this country's best.
The reform also led to a new start for the league. As part of the reform, in July 2017, Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming was elected as the chairman of the board of the CBA company that owns the CBA league. The 2017-2018 season is the first season the league is operated and managed by the company rather than the administrative center of basketball.
Lucrative contracts and the high level of competition have made the CBA an attractive option for foreign players over the past five years. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
For the first time in the league, referee reports are published, a replay center is set and a pre-team league is coming into being. The company is demonstrating its determination to make the CBA a better league. The audience is enjoying more games with better ratings and sponsors are benefiting from more professional business plans.
However, the league still has space to improve. The standard of refereeing could be improved and foreign players are still dominating the league and overshadowing domestic players.
But hope lies ahead, this is just the first year of the CBA's five-year-plan, there will be more rounds of games, more playoff teams, more professional performances in the future, and the first year has offered people enough joy and intrigue about the eventual champion. As the regular season lowers its curtain, the grand show of the playoffs awaits. When we look back this might be the start of something great, and we are all there at the beginning.
Courtney Fortson of Guangsha celebrates after scoring during a CBA basketball game between Guangsha and Zhejiang in Hangzhou on Dec 26, 2017. (HUANG ZONGZHI / XINHUA)