Zhou Qi announces withdrawal from 2021-22 CBA season



Zhou Qi of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers looks on in the CBA playoff game against the Shandong Heroes in Zhuji, east China's Zhejiang Province, April 18, 2021. /CFP

Chinese center Zhou Qi on Sunday announced he will not play in the coming 2021-2022 CBA season in a post on Sina Weibo.

"I announced I am quitting the whole season. I will persist in safeguarding the legitimate rights of players because that's my responsibility as a player," said 25-year-old Zhou. "I hope what happened to me will spur the CBA league to set more reasonable standards and do a better job of protecting the legitimate rights of players. Meanwhile, I will submit supplementary materials to the Chinese Basketball Association as soon as possible. I expect the association to conduct a fair and just arbitration over the matter."

With two days remaining before the August 31 deadline for teams to register their rosters, few saw Zhou's announcement coming. However, it's not too surprising because the relationship between Zhou and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers fell apart a long time ago.

Zhou Qi (R) of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers blocks a shot by Lester Hudson of the Shandong Heroes in the CBA playoff game in Zhuji, April 18, 2021. /CFP

In summer 2020, the Flying Tigers let three key players – Shirelijan Muxtar​, Kyranbek Makan and Yu Changdong – go during the offseason. As a result, Zhou had to carry the team almost by himself and watched the Flying Tigers lose to the Shandong Heroes in the playoffs.

Zhou has publicly expressed his resentment multiple times since then. He became a free agent this summer and wanted to leave the Flying Tigers.

However, according to league rules, the Flying Tigers have the exclusive right to sign Zhou as long as they offer a maximum contract, which is about 6 million yuan (about $927,099) per year. Meanwhile, there seems to be no team reaching out to the Flying Tigers trying to land Zhou, leaving the Flying Tigers with no reason to let him go.

Zhou and his agent previously lodged a complaint to the league but it was rejected by a collegial panel consisting of representatives of five teams. Things reached a deadlock between Zhou and the Flying Tigers until Zhou made the announcement on Sunday.

Zhou Qi (#9) of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers dunks in the game against the Guangzhou Loong Lions in Zhuji, April 1, 2021. /CFP

It's hard to rule which side is wrong over the above disputes. What Zhou is after is in the interest of the player. His contract with the team ended and he wants to leave, so he does not want to sign a new contract with the team regardless of the number on it.

The Flying Tigers also did nothing wrong. They are operating in accordance with the league rules over the contract signing with Zhou. After investing so much to acquire Zhou from Liaoning's youth team at the beginning, the Flying Tigers surely do not want to watch him leave now.

The rules in this matter may sound unreasonable, but the league came up with them to protect the interests of the teams. By giving the teams exclusive rights to keep their best players with maximum deals, the league wants to make sure that every team, especially the weak ones, can remain competitive, for the sake of both games and finances.

Zhou Qi (#15) of China grabs a rebound in the FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament Group A game against Canada in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021. /CFP

These disputes are simply part of the pain the league, teams and their players must go through while implementing reforms that should raise the professional standards. There is no shortcut and sometimes it takes a fierce act like what Zhou did to spur change.

There is basically no turning back for Zhou after the announcement. He will focus on preparing for the Chinese National Games, which start on September 15. After that, Zhou will need to find a team to play for or other ways to keep himself sharp as a top-3 player in China and an integral part of the national team.