Jiang makes history with 5% stake in T'wolves

NEW YORK • Jiang Lizhang is buying 5 per cent of the Minnesota Timberwolves, making the Shanghai investor the first Chinese owner of a National Basketball Association (NBA) team, according to a person familiar with the transaction.

Real estate investor Meyer Orbach will buy about 10 per cent of the franchise. Control of the team will remain with Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor, who bought the team in 1994.

The Timberwolves are worth worth US$720 million (S$971 million) and are 27th in the 30-team league, according to Forbes. The team finished 29-53 last season, 13th in the Western Conference.

Jiang, general manager of sports marketing company Shanghai Double-Edged Sports, was also reported to have taken a controlling stake in Granada-based Spanish football club Granada Club de Futbol this month.

He became the new owner of the team after paying €37 million (S$55.18 million) to Italian businessman Gino Pozzo, the Spanish news agency EFE reported on June 15.

Jiang's investments in the two clubs "are out of his personal interest, as he has a strong passion for sports after working so many years in the sports marketing business in China," Yu Yue, a spokesman for Double-Edged Sports, said when reached by telephone.

The NBA has spent decades cultivating fans in China, and a Chinese owner might help the team and league win fans and sell sponsorships to Chinese companies.

When Chinese player Yao Ming played for the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2011, the popularity of the NBA surged in China as well as in other parts of Asia.

Orbach is chief executive officer of the Orbach Group, which owns properties in the New York area.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Jiang makes history with 5% stake in T'wolves'. Print Edition | Subscribe