Chinese basketball national team guard Zhao Rui (center) wears a white sports jacket featuring a US national flag. Photo: screenshot from Sina Weibo.
Some Chinese basketball fans are calling for national team guard Zhao Rui to be banned from the team for life after a photo of him wearing a jacket featuring a US national flag was posted on social media and went viral on Monday.
The photo shows Zhao wearing a jacket in a hotel in Guangzhou, South China‘s Guangdong Province, while he was preparing to return to Beijing.
The photo was posted on China‘s Twitter-like Sina Weibo social media platform with the subject “Zhao Rui wears a team USA jacket.”
It quickly became one of the most searched phrases with more than 110 million views.
Other photos circulating online show Zhao‘s teammate, Zhai Xiaochuan, wearing a jacket with the Chinese national flag.
Basketball fans slammed Zhao for his alleged “traitorous” behavior.
The photo appeared as Chinese fans fumed over the national team being knocked out of the FIBA World Cup, which was hosted by China.
Many believe that the defeat in the tournament dims China‘s basketball hopes at next year‘s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The outrage on social media is also being fueled by the US-launched trade war and a series of political and economic moves regarded as attempts by the US to contain China‘s development.
“What a stupid kid, are you kidding me?” asked on Sina Weibo user.
“He should be kicked off the national team forever and seriously punished,” posted one typical user. “He should have known that he is a public figure representing China at an event with many cameras pointing at him.”
In response, Zhao posted “I‘ve to try to be mature in the face of my unintentional behavior,” which was later deleted on Monday.
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Before the picture went viral, he released another post on Monday in which he said he was looking forward to “fighting for the national flag on my chest,” but didn‘t indicate which flag.
The two posts infuriated fans and then Chinese experts joined in.
“So which national flag does he want to fight for? The US?” posted another internet user, who received more than 10,000 likes.
“I can accept your passionless and disastrous performance on the court, but I didn‘t expect you to be so shamelessly stupid! You are playing for China, where is your sense of national pride?” said another.
Zhao‘s behavior “damaged the public image of China‘s national team and his subsequent response on Weibo also reflects his lack of a rigorous public consciousness,” An Yukang, a Beijing-based cultural critic, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
While there were many sports disputes over commercial sponsorship and portrait rights, Zhao‘s mistake was “an error of principle,” An said.
“It is an essential quality for players to deal with those matters well,” he said.
Athletes should always remember that sports is a complicated field of public voices, An noted.
Zhao was also compared to Georgian basketball player Zaza Pachulia by Chinese net users for his seemingly dirty tricks on the court which injured a South Korean player during a match on Friday, similar to the way Pachulia injured NBA star Kawhi Leonard.
Born in 1996, Zhao is a promising guard who plays for the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China Basketball Association. Zhao averaged 6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game during the world cup tournament.
Newspaper headline: Net fury at basketballer over bad fashion choice