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Joe Tsai: Nets ownership will be “a long term project,” an “interesting journey”

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In his first direct confirmation that he’s agreed to buy 49 percent of the Nets, Taiwanese billionaire Joseph Tsai told Hall of Famer Bill Walton and his wife, Lori, that he expects his ownership to be “an interesting journey” and “a long-term project.”

The short back-and-forth was captured by ESPN’s Arash Markazi, who’s in China for a UCLA-Georgia Tech game, which Tsai’s Alibaba, the giant Chinese e-commerce company, is sponsoring. Markazi tweeted it out Tuesday from Alibaba’s headquarters in Huangzhou where the conversation took place.

After Bill Walton offers congratulations —adding ”You hope” — the Taiwanese billionaire thanks Walton and replies, “It’s interesting. It’s an interesting journey. It’s going to be a long, long project, a long-term project.” (ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe have reported that Tsai is on board with Sean Marks’ long-term rebuild.)

When Walton’s wife, Lori, jokes that she and Bill hope he’ll bring a team to San Diego, where they live, Tsai smiles and says, “that’s going to be a challenge.” (Speculation arose last week when a columnist for the San Diego Times-Union noted that Tsai has a house in nearby LaJolla. But the columnist, Kevin Acee, had to admit, the possibility is “so highly unlikely as to defy logic.”)

With that out of the way, the UCLA and Trail Blazers Hall of Famer offers some new owner advice saying that “what everyone finds out” when they’re admitted to the club of NBA owners is that the NBA is “completely different” from their previous businesses.

“Absolutely,” nods Tsai.

An NBA team, Bill Walton notes, needs “a very special player” to be successful, that there’s an “incredibly limited group of those players,” and that while there are a “ton of excellent players” in the NBA, there’s a huge difference between “excellent and LeBron and KD.”

Lori Walton then asks Tsai who’s his best player. Before Tsai can answer, her husband leans over and jokes, “I don’t think there is one yet.” Tsai, undeterred, first mentions D’Angelo Russell then adds, “I like Caris LeVert,” noting that he is young and that the team is very young.

Tsai admits “my favorite player, Jeremy Lin, is injured.”

Bill Walton, not hearing Tsai, asks who’s injured and Tsai repeats “Lin.” Walton expresses surprise, “he’s on your team?!” Yes, repeats Tsai, Lin’s on the Nets.

Tsai has been using the opportunity of the college game to talk with a number of basketball experts about the purchase. (The game was tarnished by news that three UCLA players were arrested for shoplifting sneakers.)

According to various reports, including in Alibaba’s own South China Morning Post, Tsai will purchase 49 percent of the team initially with an option to buy a controlling interest in 2021. The price of the minority stake is reportedly $1.13 billion.