NBA: Alibaba's Joe Tsai to buy Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Arena for US$3.5 billion - report

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai, who has a net worth of US$10.3 billion.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai, who has a net worth of US$10.3 billion.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai is paying about US$3.5 billion (S$4.85 billion) for the Brooklyn Nets and their arena, the Barclays Center, according to a person familiar with the deal.

The agreement to buy the National Basketball Association team and arena from Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov may be announced as soon as Friday (Aug 16), said the person, who asked not to be identified because the deal isn't yet public.

BSE Global, the parent company of the Nets and the arena, declined to comment. Tsai - who has a net worth of US$10.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index - declined to comment.

He had previously bought a 49 per cent stake in the team at a US$2.3 billion valuation, which is a record for an American professional sports franchise. He had until 2021 to exercise the option to take control of the club, whose already-improved fortunes were buoyed this offseason with the acquisition of star free agents Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Excitement is surging for the franchise, which has spent most of its New York City tenure in the shadow of local rivals New York Knicks. The Nets made the play-offs last season for the first time in four years, and adding Durant and Irving could drive up sales of tickets, suites, merchandise and corporate sponsorships.

A Yale Law School graduate, Taiwan-born Tsai is one of Alibaba's 18 founding members. Before being recruited by Alibaba chairman Jack Ma in 1999, he worked as a tax lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

Tsai, who also owns the Women's NBA's New York Liberty, moved to the US in 1977 to attend an elite boarding school in New Jersey.

As part of the shake-up at BSE, chief executive officer Brett Yormark will announce his resignation on Friday, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg earlier on Thursday.

As the point person for the Nets' relocation and revamp, Yormark led the transformation of the team from a moribund brand to a hip and trendy one. The team finished their first season in Brooklyn in the top five in merchandise sales after coming last the previous year. And a spot on the squad, 42-40 last season, is now coveted by top players in the NBA.

The US$3.5 billion price tag, which includes debt, represents a hefty profit for Prokhorov, whose Onexim Sports & Entertainment in 2010 paid US$223 million for an 80 per cent stake of the team and a 45 per cent share of the arena. In 2015, the Russian, the first non-North American owner of an NBA team, consolidated ownership of the team and arena in a deal with real estate developer Bruce Ratner's Forest City Enterprises Inc. that valued the assets at around US$1.7 billion.

The NBA prefers that one owner control the team and the arena where they play.