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Zhou Qi said he had a sleepless night on the eve of playing for China in Hong Kong. Photo: FIBA

Chinese basketball in chaos as Xinjiang Flying Tigers quit league, Zhou Qi reveals threatening messages

  • Club abandons season and quit league in protest at transfer sanction, while Zhou says he received threats while playing in Hong Kong last month
  • There is speculation that Zhou, China’s key player, may be allowed to find a new team after Xinjiang’s withdrawal breaks the impasse in his contract dispute

The Chinese Basketball Association has been plunged into crisis by the midseason withdrawal of Xinjiang Flying Tigers, with officials also facing a dilemma over whether to allow the country’s star player Zhou Qi to join a new team.

Xinjiang on Tuesday quit the league, abandoning the current season, in protest against a transfer ban imposed on them last month. It meant that Zhou and the club’s other contracted players became free agents, but outside the transfer window.

Zhou has not played for the Flying Tigers since 2021 amid a long-running contract dispute with the club, who had exercised their right to retain his registration despite his wish to leave. Since a spell playing in Australia for South East Melbourne Phoenix ended in December, the centre has been training with the China team or on his own.

His importance to the national squad raised questions over whether the CBA would make special arrangements for him while minimising the impact on a league already disrupted by a club pulling out 28 games into the 40-round season.

Zhou Qi slam dunks for South East Melbourne Phoenix during his stint in Australia. Photo: Getty Images

A year-long ban on Xinjiang making signings was handed down by the Chinese governing body on February 17, citing violation of league rules on registering players.

The club issued a statement denying any wrongdoing, accusing the CBA of failing to explain the legal basis for the sanction and announcing their withdrawal, forcing the cancellation of Wednesday’s game against Beijing Ducks.

Sources with knowledge of the matter told the Post that Zhou, 27, was likely to join a CBA team – be it imminently or next season – rather than head overseas.

Mainland Chinese media reported that the CBA could make an exception to transfer window restrictions to help Zhou get game time before China play in the FIBA World Cup and the Asian Games this year.

Also up in the air are the futures of the rest of the Xinjiang roster, although none of them were named in the latest China squad selected by new head coach Aleksander Dordevic.

It is believed that Zhou would not allowed to join a championship challenger such as Liaoning Flying Leopards or Guangdong Southern Tigers, and could sign for a mid-table team.

CBA president Yao Ming said he “respected” the franchise’s withdrawal.

“Honestly, Xinjiang has made great contributions to Chinese basketball over the last two decades,” he said. “We respect this decision and expressed our regret.”

In response to accusations made previously by the Flying Tigers about his contract saga, Zhou also issued a statement on Wednesday, via Weibo.

He said he had been receiving threats from unfamiliar Xinjiang phone numbers, as well as pressure from club officials, when he was in Hong Kong with the national team for the World Cup qualifiers late last month.

“Little did anyone know, I lost sleep almost the entire night before the game against Iran [last Sunday],” Zhou wrote. “I then dragged my heavy body and mind to warm up and insisted on finishing the game.

“I was sent texts by Guo Jian, the chairman, including, ‘you cannot just go anywhere you want,’ and, ‘stop daydreaming, I will not let you go even if I have to risk my life!’

China’s Zhou Qi (second from right) in action against Kazakhstan in Hong Kong last month. Photo: Mike Chan

“You can direct threats and bad words at me, but for someone to send such texts during the games, do they really love basketball? Do they even care about the national team?”

The CBA has removed Xinjiang – who had been in seventh place with 17 wins and 11 losses – from the league table on its website, leaving 19 teams, but has yet to reveal whether results against them will be annulled or the league table adjusted by other means.

The association has so far not responded to the Post’s request for comment.

Since joining the league in 1999, the Flying Tigers had won one championship, in 2017, and been runners-up on five other occasions.