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NBA Owners Have $10 Billion Invested In China, Report Finds

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SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 10: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays in a preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets as part of 2019 NBA Global Games China at Mercedes-Benz Arena on October 10, 2019 in Shanghai, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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Owners of NBA teams have a collective $10 billion invested in China, according to a new report released Thursday.

The NBA has been frequently criticized for doing business with China while refusing to speak against a myriad of issues plaguing the communist nation — including repression of ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs — even as coaches and star athletes lambast the United States for systemic racism. Now, a new analysis from ESPN found that the league’s 40 principal owners “collectively have more than $10 billion tied up in China.”

“The owners’ myriad ties to the world’s second-largest economy leave their businesses vulnerable if they get on the wrong side of the Chinese government or the public there,” the analysis found.

ESPN commissioned Strategy Risks — a firm that quantifies companies’ exposure to China — which discovered that there are two primary ways that team owners find themselves financially tied to the Chinese economy. On one hand, “China has grown so large that it contributes significantly to the value of each team.” On the other, “many NBA owners also have substantial financial interests in China through their other businesses.”

Most notably, Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai — who co-founded Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba — has 53.5% of his net worth tied to China. Meanwhile, it is estimated that Sacramento Kings co-owner Paul Jacobs has over 30% of his net worth linked to the nation. Jacobs — the former CEO of Qualcomm — has over $200 million in shares of the technology company, which earned two-thirds of its total annual revenues from China and Hong Kong last year.

Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera has an estimated $369 million of exposure to China through Ubiquiti, a wireless equipment manufacturer of which he is the founder and majority shareholder. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has an estimated $160 million in exposure through Landry’s, a restaurant chain that generates about $57 million annually in China. 

Charlotte Hornets owner and former NBA superstar Michael Jordan also has extensive Chinese business ties. 

“In 2020, Jordan and his brand pledged $100 million to the social justice movement in the United States,” ESPN reported. “The NBA committed $300 million, and other owners, including Tsai, made similar donations.”

Many NBA principal owners — such as the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joshua Harris — find themselves heavily linked to the Chinese economy through their investments in private equity and venture capital firms. “As the Chinese financial sector has increasingly opened to foreign investment in recent years, these firms are becoming more exposed to China by acquiring direct or indirect ownership stakes in Chinese companies,” Strategy Risks said.

Indeed, the NBA has made several overtures to the American social justice movement while remaining quiet on the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Community Party — which, as the gatekeeper of the Chinese economy, is quick to expel entities that object to its totalitarian agenda.

Former Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom — who grew up under heavy political repression in Turkey — has blasted the NBA for refusing to speak out about Chinese atrocities because they are “scared.”

“You know, you see, there’s so many athletes, so many actors, you know, so many singers and rappers out there,” Kanter told Fox News last year. “They’re scared. They’re scared to say a word because they care too much about their money. They care too much about their endorsement deals. They care too much about what the teams that they play for are going to say. But, you know, they should know one thing: It should be morals and principles over money. It shouldn’t be the opposite way.”

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