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Tsai okayed as 49% owner, can take control in 2021

Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese-Canadian businessman who was educated at opposite ends of the New York metropolitan area and helped build e-commerce giant Alibaba, is officially a minority stakeholder in the Brooklyn Nets.

Five months after the deal was agreed in principle, the NBA approved the sale of 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets —but not Barclays Center— on Thursday to Tsai, based on a reported valuation of $2.35 billion, the highest ever, topping the $2.2 billion sale of the Houston Rockets last year. That sale also included the Rockets lease on Toyota Center.

With a $2.35 billion valuation, 49 percent would mean a price tag of $1.15 billion.

As part of the deal, Tsai can take control of the team in the 2021-22 season by exercising an option. That will give Mikhail Prokhorov three more years at the helm. Prokhorov bought 80 percent of the team in 2009, closing in 2010. He bought the remaining 20 percent two and a half years ago as well as the remaining stake in Barclays he did not own.

In a letter to season ticket holders, Mikhail Prokhorov, principal owner of the Nets, and Dmitry Razumov, chairman of board, wrote.

Today we announced the sale of a 49% stake in the Brooklyn Nets to Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman and co-founder of Alibaba Group. We are excited to have Joe as a partner. He brings tremendous global experience, a passion for basketball, and shares our vision for the development of the Nets. Joe feels personally connected to the area given that he attended high school in New Jersey and lived in New York City for many years.

Today’s announcement allows for greater opportunities, and we’re looking forward to our next chapter. To you, our loyal Season Ticket Members, our goal to deliver a great experience every game remains a top priority.

We are looking forward to all that we will continue to achieve in the many seasons to come.

Thank you for your continued dedication and support of the Nets.

In the official press release announcing the closing, Prokhorov and Tsai spoke of their mutual respect.

Mr. Prokhorov commented, “As we looked for a partner for the team, the number one priority was to find someone who shares our global vision and passion for the future development of the Brooklyn Nets. Those who have followed our story know that, having learned some hard lessons, we are focused on building our culture, and this must be reflected in all that we do – in our players, our staff and our front office. It was important to us that we choose a partner who shares our commitment to the highest standards as we create a truly wonderful NBA franchise.I welcome Joe to the organization and I am looking forward to working with him for years to come.”

“As a lifelong sports fan, I am very proud to join the Nets ownership and the NBA family,” said Mr. Tsai. “I lived in New York in the early days of my career and the City holds a special place in my heart. I share the vision and culture that Mikhail Prokhorov, CEO Brett Yormark, General Manager Sean Marks and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson have put in place, and I look forward to being part of this great franchise.”

“Basketball is a global sport and the NBA is one of the most recognized brands in the world. I am excited about the NBA’s international growth prospects, and hope to play a part in bringing the NBA and the special character of the Brooklyn Nets to fans around the world,” Tsai continued.

Tsai, 54, attended the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey where he played lacrosse and football. He also played lacrosse at the Division I level as an undergraduate at Yale College.

After earning his law degree from Yale Law School, Tsai worked in New York meeting and marrying his wife, Clara, in the city.

Tsai co-founded China-based Alibaba Group in 1999, and currently oversees the company’s strategic acquisitions and investments as executive vice chairman. He is a member of the company’s board of directors and sits on the partnership committee of the Alibaba Partnership, which is comprised of a group of senior executives responsible for the day-to-day management of Alibaba Group. Alibaba Group is not party to the transaction, said the Nets.

Tsai also recently bought an expansion team in the National Lacrosse League. It will play in San Diego, where Tsai owns a home.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Prokhorov and Tsai have a combined net worth of $22.2 billion, divided almost evenly.

When he bought the Nets in 2009, Prokhorov became the first international owner of an NBA team. The sale represents a huge profit of the Russian oligarch. He initially invested $223 million and assumed $160 million in team debt for the 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of Barclays Center.

Adam Silver told the New York Post back in December that the sale shows that the Nets brand reaches all the way to China, where, as executive chairman of Alibaba, Tsai spends most of his time.

“Most importantly the new partner … Joe Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba, the fact is that he’s someone who’s living in China but very familiar with the Brooklyn Nets brand,” said Silver . “He’ll be the co-owner for several years, not controlling owner, [but] it speaks specifically to the interest in the Brooklyn Nets in China, and to the greater interest in the league.”

Moreover, Tsai has called Jeremy Lin “my favorite player.” He attended at least three Nets games this season, both Warriors games and a Knicks game. The Nets, unfortunately, lost all three.