A semi-final in the Chinese national women's league had to be abandoned in the dying seconds as scores of enraged fans stormed on to the court and attacked the referee, the latest incident in a season that has been marred by crowd trouble.
Heilongjiang, playing host to Liaoning on Sunday night in the WCBA play-off tiebreaker, let their lead slip away in the fourth quarter and trailed 85-82 with only 13 seconds remaining on the clock.
Local fans, angered by decisions referee Ma Lijun gave against their team, rained water bottles, cigarette lighters and other debris on top of him.
Then, scores of supporters, both men and women, jumped the barricades and ran on to the court to attack the referee, who had to be protected by police, an official said.
One fan took control of the public address system and egged the mob on, shouting: 'Keep going and the victory will belong to us.'
The referee, who was escorted from the arena, reportedly suffered head injuries, as did a young boy who was hit on the head by a flying object. The two teams fled to the dressing rooms, and it took security officials more than an hour to clear people off the court.
The China Basketball Association yesterday opened an inquiry into the incident, watching a video recording of the game in the association headquarters in Beijing. The amateur footage did not show the melee, stopping just as the first bottles landed on the court, with the next scene showing the empty stadium littered with debris.
'My feeling is the referee did nothing wrong. The fault was with the home fans,' one official said, although the association will make its final verdict today. 'This is not the first time we have had incidents like this in Heilongjiang. Fans have thrown things on the court there before over the past few seasons. But to run on and attack the referee, that is really too bad.'
Hu Jiashi, the vice-president of the association, said the crowd trouble reflected the success of the league. 'It shows the league is getting more competitive, more exciting,' he said. 'The problem is the fans are too passionate. In sport this should not happen, but it does. Sometimes the players and the fans cannot control themselves.'
The home fans at a men's CBA game between Shaanxi and Yunnan last week also fired water bottles and other missiles at the referee, shouting 'black whistle, black whistle', a term for corrupt match officials.
The incident that has caused most concern among the sports authorities recently was the game between China and Puerto Rico in Beijing last summer. Dubbed the 'night of shame' by the media, Chinese players charged off the bench to brawl with the opposition.