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Report: Alibaba exec in talks to acquire Brooklyn NBA arena

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-04-08 22:49

An outside view of Barclays Center on Aug 9, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. [Photo/VCG]

Chinese investment in American professional sports could attain new heights if a recent news report is accurate.

Negotiations are underway that would enable Joseph Tsai, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, to purchase the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn and the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, according to the New York Post. That could eventually lead to Tsai's purchase of the Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the paper said.

In 2018, Tsai acquired a 49 percent stake in the Nets for a reported $1 billion. Tsai is majority owner of the New York Liberty of the WNBA, the women's professional basketball league in the US.

"Tsai has a real interest in sports with the Liberty stake and a team in the lacrosse league," said Rick Ellington, managing editor of Sports Business Daily.

While Jack Ma is looked at as the visionary founder of Alibaba, Tsai, who served as vice-chairman under Ma, helped to execute the company's strategy. Tsai is Yale-educated and a former lawyer at the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, based in New York.

Born in Taiwan, the 55-year-old Tsai came to the US in 1977 to attend The Lawrenceville School, an elite boarding school in New Jersey, speaking hardly any English.By the time he graduated, he was conversing with no accent and playing lacrosse.

James Kahler, executive director of the AECOM Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University and a former executive with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, said the NBA is ideal league to be the first with a majority owner from China.

"The NBA China as an entity has been around for more than a decade, and I think that Commissioner Adam Silver would embrace this transfer of ownership, as he sees the league as a global entity. I can say that with confidence, having worked with Adam in the past when I used to be with the Cavaliers," noted Kahler.

"Kevin Durant and LeBron James (NBA players with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively) are already household names in China. The NBA is a decade ahead of baseball or anyone else as far as penetrating the Chinese market," Ellington said.

Kahler and Ellington do not anticipate any problems with Tsai assuming ownership of the Nets because he already has been vetted by the league in his acquisition of the minority stake in the team.

"In my opinion, minority owners in most professional leagues are the best type of new owners, as in some ways they have already been pre-screened by the commissioner's office," Kahler said.

"(This) should be a positive for the Nets, as the on-court product is greatly improved, with the team poised to make the playoffs. He will certainly dedicate the resources that the team needs," Ellington said.

"With an extremely large Chinese population in the Greater New York City area, I think this would provide a strong increase in both interest and attendance for the Nets," added Kahler.

"Nets fans are about to enter the 21st century of professional sports. Joe Tsai will redefine so many elements of what it means to own and operate a professional sports franchise," said David Hollander, a professor of sports management at New York University.

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