Alibaba co-founder Tsai to buy stake in Brooklyn

NEW YORK • Joseph Tsai, one of the founders of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is set to become one of the few Asian owners in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The Taiwanese-Canadian will buy 49 per cent of the Brooklyn Nets, US media reported on Friday.

ESPN and Newsday both reported that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the first non-North American owner of an NBA team when he purchased controlling interest in the franchise in 2009, has agreed to the sale.

Although the Nets had the worst record in the NBA last season (20-62), a source told Newsday that the deal values the franchise at US$2.3 billion (S$3.14 billion).

That tops the record sale of the Houston Rockets earlier this year in a deal that included their Toyota Centre arena. According to Forbes magazine's most recent valuations, the Nets are worth US$1.8 billion, seventh in the 30-team NBA.

Under terms of the Nets sale first reported by ESPN, Tsai can choose to purchase a controlling interest in the Nets after four years, but not necessarily 100 per cent ownership. The transaction highlights the growing trend of billionaires owning sports teams - and the climbing prices that prominent teams can command. Three years ago, Steve Ballmer paid a then-unheard of US$2 billion for control of the Clippers. Last month, American casino mogul Tilman J. Fertitta paid US$2.2 billion for the Rockets.

Tsai, a Taiwan-born lawyer who moved to the US to attend high school, is buying the Nets stake with his own money, one of the people briefed on the matter said.

Following the acquisition of Taiwanese-American guard Jeremy Lin last season, the Nets are popular in Tsai's native Taiwan.

Indian-American businessman Vivek Ranadive is a co-owner of the Sacramento Kings, while China's Jiang Lizhang has a 5 per cent stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In 2011, Indonesian Erick Thohir became the first Asian NBA owner when he bought a 15 per cent stake in the Philadelphia 76ers but sold it to become the owner of Italian Serie A football club Inter Milan.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Alibaba co-founder Tsai to buy stake in Brooklyn'. Print Edition | Subscribe