One of the greatest players in the history of ping pong found himself in the global spotlight this week, not for his accomplishments in table tennis, but rather for his apparent failures at the tables in a casino.

Kong Linghui, table tennis champion and gambler

Kong Linghui was like the Michael Jordan of ping pong, a likeness even up to the point that he allegedly got himself in gambling troubles. (Image: SCMP)

Kong Linghui, coach of the Chinese women’s table tennis team, was summoned on Monday to return to China just as the 2017 World Table Tennis Championships were getting underway in Germany. He has been suspended from the team in the wake of a scandal over gambling debts.

Kong, a 41-year-old former champion considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game, was named in a lawsuit filed in Hong Kong that alleged he stiffed the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino in 2015 on nearly $720,000 in markers.

Alleged Debts and Gambling Regrets

On Tuesday, Kong posted on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, to explain that the debts weren’t his. He said he visited the casino in Lion City, Singapore, with friends and family, and used his line of credit so they could play while he “sat and observed.”

“It is only until today after media reports have exposed the incident that I have learned someone had left some debt unsettled with the casino,” he said in a statement (as translated by Google) on Weibo. “I am being dragged into the lawsuit. I have immediately requested the indebted to show up and clarify the facts.”

According to the lawsuit filed by Sands against Kong, the casino extended him S$1 million in credit during a February trip in 2015, of which he has since paid back S$550,000. That left an unpaid balance equivalent to US $320,000.

“I am deeply disturbed by the negative impact of the incident on the team,” Kong wrote. “I will work with my team to eliminate interference and make every effort in this World Table Tennis Championships, and continue to fight for the honor of the motherland!”

Ping Pong Prince

Kong, known as the “ping pong prince,” is one of only a select few competitors to win the grand slam of table tennis titles. During his heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he won the World Table Tennis Championships, the Table Tennis World Cup, and table tennis events at the Olympics, where he won two gold medals and a silver.

The 41-year-old Kong won Olympic gold in 1996 and 2000.

Considered by his contemporaries as one of the most complete and well-rounded table tennis players of all time, Kong is credited for shaking up a longtime European male dominance of the sport in the 1990s.

The Chinese government sent him to Sweden to study the great players. He returned to China in 1993 with what he had learned, and by the end of 1995 he was the top ranked player in the world.

In 2006, Kong retired early at age 30 after crashing his Porsche in Beijing while driving drunk. The Chinese government waived a mandatory 15-day detention because of his sporting success for the country.