By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. This month is filled with big news as we head into fall.
Joseph Tsai becomes first Chinese owner in NBA
Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai became the majority owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets when he purchased the controlling interest of shares from former owner Mikhail Prokhorov in August. In addition, Tsai purchased full ownership of the Barclays Center, where the Nets play.
The 55-year-old was born in Taipei, Taiwan and sent to study in the United States at the age of 13. He attended Yale College, where he played lacrosse and received a bachelor’s degree in Economics and East Asian Studies. He then went to Yale Law School. Tsai followed in his father’s footsteps as he also attended Yale undergrad and then received a research doctorate in law from Yale Law School. Tsai’s father was the first person from Taiwan to receive such a degree from Yale.
Tsai started practicing as a tax lawyer in New York and then he switched to private equity. Through this line of work, he met Jack Ma in 1999. Impressed with Ma and his idea for the company that would become known as Alibaba, Tsai left his $700,000 per year job to work for almost nothing with Ma until the company was up and running.
Tsai was able to build Alibaba’s financial and legal structure since he was the only one in the company to have experience in venture capital and law. As a result, he became the second-largest individual shareholder of Alibaba after Ma.
Tsai purchased 49 percent of the Nets in 2017 for $2.3 billion, which came with an option to buy the remaining stake of the team. He did so last month.
In addition to the Nets, Tsai has purchased the New York Liberty of the WNBA, a lacrosse team in San Diego, and explored being a member of an investment group to purchase the Carolina Panthers of the NFL.
With the purchase, the value of the Brooklyn Nets is at $2.35 billion and set a record for the purchase price of a sports franchise.
Jeremy Lin finds new team in China
After 9 years of putting together an NBA career, which includes winning a championship, Jeremy Lin is moving on. Lin signed with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). You might have seen this happening given Lin’s annual summer trips to Asia and his fondness for his fans in the region. Despite winning the NBA title with the Raptors this year, Lin didn’t feel like a part of the team and didn’t believe any other team in the league wanted him. In a surprising scene of emotion before his fans at an event in Asia, Lin broke down in tears describing the scrutiny and stress he’s been under while playing in the league.
Instead of being an afterthought, sitting at the end of the bench in the NBA, Lin will be the focal point of the Beijing franchise and a role player for many in the league considering he’s the only one with an NBA Championship on his resume.
In a Twitter post, Lin thanked his supporters. “Will always cherish being able to rep Asians at the NBA level. Excited for the next step with the Beijing Ducks.” The post included a congratulations to his little brother, Joseph Lin, who is playing for the Fubon Braves of Taiwan’s Super Basketball League.
Lin stated that he’s known his path “would go through the CBA…solely because I knew how much of an honor it would be to hoop in front of all my Chinese fans. I’m here now, and there is more history to be made.”
The move is bittersweet for most Asian American fans of basketball. Lin had been relegated to a bench role and rarely played for the Raptors during the team’s run to the title. Playing for China and fans who adore him is a nice consolation for one of the most popular players among Asians in recent times. Lin has recognized that he is a role model and while he’s shown emotion over the stress and pressure of holding the moniker, he’s always been professional and thankful for his fans.
Weili Zhang becomes UFC’s first Chinese champion
Could Weili Zhang be the next Ronda Rousey? Zhang defeated Jessica Andrade in Shenzhen, China to win the UFC strawweight title. It took 54 seconds in the very first round for her to become the first Chinese champion in the company’s history.
The win is also a victory for the UFC, as the mixed martial arts company looks to expand its promotion and hold events in China. The company, now owned by multi-media entertainment conglomerate WME, has opened a Performance Institute in Shanghai, China, where it plans to train athletes in hopes of turning them into future UFC competitors.
The 30-year-old Zhang began as a fitness instructor, where she trained in Chinese boxing and kickboxing before Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She then transitioned into MMA, which infuses a mix of martial arts. She began with the UFC in August 2018 and earned the title shot after winning her first three fights. With the win to earn the title, she has won 20 straight MMA fights.
Ronda Rousey stated on Instagram that she felt “like a proud mama” watching the growth of women’s MMA. She noted that Zhang was “a prime example of overcoming adversity—fighting not just through the ranks, but to also get noticed and stand out.”
She added, “I’ve definitely taken notice and so should you.”
Many people have taken notice as Chinese fans have been on social media praising Zhang and millions have viewed the video of Zhang’s win.
One might see Zhang’s popularity rise as Rousey’s did when she became the first woman UFC champion. Zhang has already lobbied the company for a title defense on pay-per-view in China.
Ohashi’s triumphant return to Seattle
Katelyn Ohashi has had a very good year. After a video of the UCLA gymnast’s floor routine went viral, she became an overnight star. Ohashi, a native of the Seattle area, became a social media darling with an energy-infused perfect 10 for her routine, which included an R&B and pop hits medley. She was able to attend the ESPY’s this year and even won her award for ‘Best Play.’ This past July at the ESPYs, she was able to recite a poem she wrote about female stereotypes.
Ohashi’s viral success has also led her to be one of the several athletes chosen to do ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue in which players across various spectrums pose nude.
Although Ohashi may be done with gymnastics competitions, she was in Seattle in late August to raise the ‘12’ flag before the Seahawks final preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. A couple days later, she was the honorary “Scarves Up” celebrity before a Seattle Sounders match. She even ended her appearance with some gymnastics flips.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.