Chinese Women’s Basketball Star Li Meng Busted for Affair With Coach

Hoops heroine Li Meng will be suspended from the Chinese national team for a year because of her relationship with national team coach Zhang Long

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11:20 AM HKT, Thu March 30, 2023 2 mins read

According to Chinese media outlets, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) is reportedly planning to suspend 28-year-old basketball star Li Meng from the national team for a year after online accusations of an affair between Li and Zhang Long, one of the coaches of the national women’s basketball team, caused a public uproar.


The CBA, which governs both the men’s and women’s national teams, also stated that Coach Zhang would be fired due to the scandal.


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Li at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup. Image via VCG


The decision came after a Weibo user claiming to be Zhao Lei, the ex-wife of 45-year-old Zhang, exposed Zhang’s extramarital affair with Li on March 18.


The user claimed that the affair had led to the end of her marriage in August last year and that she was exposing it now because Zhang was not paying child support. She posted censored nude photos of Li as proof of the relationship.


The accusation has stirred up an online furor, mainly because Li is a high-profile player and a key figure in the Chinese women’s basketball team, which is governed by the CBA.


She has played for the Chinese national team since 2013. After leading China to an impressive second-place finish in the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, she was even voted Player of the Year in Asia by fans.


At the beginning of this month, Li was called up to the national team training group in preparation for international basketball events happening later this year.

During this past regular season, Li played for the Sichuan Yuanda Merlot Basketball Club, which won the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) 2022-23 season championship in early March.


As noted by some sharp-eyed netizens, Zhang also coached the Sichuan team at the time.


li meng basketball, li meng, chinese women's basketball

The Sichuan Yuanda club celebrating its WCBA championship win. Li is in front, and Zhang Long is circled. Image via Weibo


The public reaction to the affair and Li’s subsequent ban is mixed. Zhang has been almost universally condemned as a “bastard” or “scumbag,” though online discourse focuses more on Li because of her higher profile.


While not excusing the affair, some netizens think Zhang’s ex-wife is in the wrong for posting Li’s nudes. One Weibo user wrote, “[Zhao] isn’t going to be held accountable for posting someone else’s nude photos? Does privacy differ from person to person?”


Another, who called Zhao’s post a “patriarchal trick,” wrote, “When will women understand that men live so happy because they have low moral standards, yet our lives are so hard because they tie us down with morals.”


However, many think the backlash towards Li and her one-year suspension is justified.


“If you support Li Meng,” one Weibo user wrote, “I hope a mistress upends your marriage.”


A Baidu blog post in support of the suspension reads, “[The ban] is not only a warning to [Li] personally but also a necessary decision to maintain the discipline of the entire national team and the image of the country.”


li meng signing announcement with washington mystics

Li has been signed to the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Image via Weibo


Li, however, was already planning to leave the WCBA. Before news broke of her affair, on March 13, the American professional basketball team Washington Mystics announced that they had signed Li.


This is the second big scandal to rock the CBA this year. In February, the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers left the men’s league over a contract dispute with their star player Zhou Qi. However, on March 16, the team announced they would return to the CBA for this season.


Cover image via VCG

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