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How Joe Tsai made one Charlotte school very happy

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Marvin Elementary School/Jared Worthington

It all began last fall when Yale played California in Shanghai, part of what’s become an annual event hosted by Alibaba, the Chinese company whose executive vice-chairman is quite the hoops fan and minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

Among those on hand for Yale, Joe Tsai’s alma mater, was Queen Smith, a former women’s basketball coach at Yale and now a resident of Charlotte. She accompanied her son, David, who at 11 was a Yale ballboy ... and enrolled in his elementary school’s Chinese language immersion program. Tsai was so impressed by David’s proficiency that he agreed to drop by Marvin Elementary when in Charlotte for the All-Star game. Tsai, of course, was on hand to root on the Nets four players in the various competitions and for the league’s Board of Governors’ meeting.

So, as the Charlotte Observer reported, Tsai dropped by the school Friday afternoon to talk with the students who were encouraged to ask the billionaire some questions.

Sixth grader Kenton Gargus shot up his hand. A competitive baller, Gargus had considered several possibilities, including asking Tsai for D’Angelo Russell’s mobile number. Instead, he went for gold.

“Can we have tickets to the All-Star game?” Gargus asked.

The Observer reported the room exploded with laughter. Tsai made no promises. “I myself am begging (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver to give me tickets. But I’ll see what I can do,” he told the crowd. And that, everyone thought, was that.

It wasn’t, as the Observer’s Christina Bolling wrote.

Not long after his security detail wisked Tsai back downtown, Marvin Elementary Principal Jared Worthington’s cell phone pinged as he pulled into his driveway. It was a text message from one of Tsai’s assistants: “I have 30 tickets for you and your students to attend the All-Star game on Sunday night.”

Worthington chose the 30, including young Kenton, and got approval from the school district. Tsai’s generosity was a big deal.

“I say this often to my kids ... when you have opportunities like that, you can’t take them for granted,” Queen Smith said. “I hope that out of this experience, when they are able to give back and make a difference in this world, that they remember this time.

“That’s what life’s all about.”

And Gargus’ father in a comment to this story expressed his gratitude to Tsai.

“We are so appreciative of Mr. Tsai’s visit to our school and the Mandarin Immersion Program,” wrote Keith Gargus. “His insight was great for the kids and his generosity was much appreciated. The kids had a blast at the game – what an experience. He really did want to speak to D’Angelo Russell but I guess switching his question turned out pretty well!!!”

Will Tsai be able to turn Hornets fans into Nets fans? Doubtful, but no doubt that they are Tsai fans.