In a move that might have long-term ramifications for the global growth of the NBA, the league’s Board of Governors on Wednesday unanimously approved the sale of the Nets and Barclays Center to Joe Tsai.
The billionaire co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba purchased a 49-percent stake in the Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov in April 2018 and had an option to buy the remaining 51 percent by 2021. With the encouragement of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who views Tsai as a leading partner to help grow the brand in Asia, the timetable for completion of the sale was moved two years ahead of schedule.
The reported sale price of $2.35 billion is a record for a sports franchise, and according to several reports Tsai’s investment is worth at least $3 billion, including his purchase of ownership of Barclays Center.
“We are thrilled that Joe Tsai is becoming the principal owner and governor of the Brooklyn Nets,” Silver said in a statement. “In addition to being a passionate basketball fan, Joe is one of China’s preeminent internet, media and e-commerce pioneers and his expertise will be invaluable in the league’s efforts to grow the game in China and other global markets.”
In a statement, Tsai emphasized his commitment “to bring our exciting brand of basketball to our fans.” That commitment was underlined in July when high-end free agents Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan chose to join the Nets and a young core that made a surprise trip to the playoffs with a 42-40 record last season. Tsai praised the job general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson did over the past three seasons to lift the franchise from the NBA’s depths.
“Sean and Kenny have done an extraordinary job building the team,” Tsai said in his statement. “They established the culture, developed talent that others couldn’t see and made Brooklyn the place where the best players want to play.
“We have an incredible group of players who want to win, and because of their talent and hard work, we are now in a great position to compete. I am thrilled to be partners with winners!”
Tsai hit the ground running on Wednesday with his announcement of the hiring of former Turner Broadcasting president David Levy to take over as chief executive officer of the Nets and Barclays Center and president of J Tsai Sports, a sports investment and holding company controlled by Tsai.
Levy has a close relationship with Silver that extends over the past 30 years in his various positions working with the NBA for Turner Broadcasting. Levy met Tsai three years ago when he set up a live streaming video product for the National Lacrosse League, which includes the San Diego franchise owned by Tsai.
In recent seasons, the Nets have ranked at or near the bottom of the NBA in terms of attendance and revenue. But Levy told Newsday he expects that to change after the Nets hit the jackpot in free agency even though Durant is recovering from right Achilles tendon surgery and likely won’t play most or all of the coming season.
“A big focus of my responsibility is to make sure we put people in the seats and get our sponsors up to where they should be and certainly suite sales,” Levy said. “From what I hear, all those arrows are pointing up right now.
“That doesn’t surprise me with what happened in free agency and with what happened in the postseason this past year and the buzz around Brooklyn right now. I’m excited to enter at this time because of new ownership, new CEO and really a revamped team that can do better.”
Although the Knicks had the NBA’s worst record last season, they historically have dominated the New York market. But as Levy sees it, the Nets are positioned to grow their fan base with a younger audience.
“I love the fact there is that competitive crosstown rivalry on the floor because that also sells tickets and it keeps conversations going on sports shows and in magazines and newspapers,” Levy said. “But I think we’ll attract young fans to this team. If we’re winning on the floor, we’re going to get those fans. It’s just natural. It’s a big enough market. This story will continue to play out for sure this year.”