When Joe Tsai talks about Han Xu, the Liberty’s 6’9” Chinese rookie, he waxes poetic about her potential. Indeed, at 6’9”, she’s the WNBA’s second tallest player ever and all of 19 years old.
Recalling how she played in the FIBA Women’s World Cup last year, Han’s coming out party, Tsai described to NetsDaily what she did against Team USA, reeling off her stats: 20 points, five rebounds, two blocks.
“People were like ‘Wow. who is this girl?’ The Chinese team, although they lost to the United States, they beat Japan, they beat Senegal who was in their group and they also beat Canada!”
Of course, Tsai, who holds Taiwanese and Canadian citizenship, didn’t explicitly say that Han could help in another way: marketing the Liberty —and the WNBA— in China. So what about his other team? Would he want to see a Chinese player on the Nets. Oh, yes.
“I have said, I’ve been on record saying if there’s good Chinese players, I would do anything to help them come -- if they want to come play in the NBA, I would do anything to help them do that,” Tsai emphasized to NetsDaily.
“On the men’s side of things, I think the (Chinese) players are more known to everybody. It’s fairly transparent. So, it’s not like we can go out and find some diamond-in-the-rough situation, but we’re looking. I would be very pleased if we had someone from China. China is a large country with a large population, a strong passion for basketball, and also with the authorities very focused on developing sports. I think it’s just a matter of time.”
Tsai, who is on the board of directors for NBA China, has also said he’d leave any such decision to his basketball people. The Nets had planned to play Ding Yanyuhang in the Las Vegas Summer League last year, but he hurt his knee and later signed with the Mavericks who cut him.
In that same vein — while discussing what the Liberty can learn from the Nets rebuild— Tsai cited Brooklyn’s scouting, how Sean Marks has a team “that’s scouring the globe and looking for talent.”
“I still remember a few months ago, there was something I wanted to call Sean about,” Tsai recalled with a smile. ‘I called him up and he picked up the phone and I asked him, ‘Sean where are you?’ and he answered ‘I’m in Europe.’ I asked which part of Europe and he said, ‘Serbia.’ Then, the next day I called him and said ‘Where are you now?’ And he said, ‘I’m in Slovenia.’ They travel around. They see talent from all over the world.”
The executive vice-chairman of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, spoke as well about how he’d like to have the “opportunity” to “participate” in ownership of Barclays Center so his two teams could share one home court. Tsai has already purchased 49 percent of the Nets at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion with an option to take control in January 2021.
“This morning, when I addressed the team (Liberty). It was my first chance of talking to the players face to face. As the owner, my responsibility is to bring in as many fans as possible.
“Where the Liberty is playing right now --in Westchester-- the venue is not ideal because it has a limit of about 3,000 of seats. So we definitely need the right venue when fans are willing to come to, its accessible to the fans.
“I cannot guarantee playing in Barclays Center because I don’t own the building but we’re looking at all sorts of options to see if we can improve the current situation. I think building that fan base --you’ve got to get people to come to the games.”
Tsai added that the NBA would prefer the Nets —or any NBA team— own their home venue.
“I think the NBA definitely encourages the team ownership and building ownership to be combined under one roof. And I’ve talked to other owners and they tell me that being a renter is definitely not fun. When you own the building, you own your own destiny...
“If the opportunity arises for me to participate in the building in any way, I would love to do that.”
Tsai wouldn’t talk much about the Nets pursuit of free agents this summer, but he admitted he is very much aware of the “chatter” Brooklyn is generating, calling it encouraging for the team long-term as well as short.
“Other people talking about the Nets as a possibility,” he said when asked what he liked about what he’s been reading. “We have young players. We have a young core. We have cap space. I read all the social media, and all the reporting and Twitter, and all that. There’s a lot of chatter about us and we realize we’re in that position. “
But Tsai also seemed to hint that even if the Nets don’t hit a home run in free agency, the team will be just fine because of the culture Marks and Kenny Atkinson have created.
“You have to have patience when you’re in a rebuild. You look for all the pieces and you try to put all the pieces in place and the second thing is that players get better so you don’t need to go out and bring someone in.” he told NetsDaily.
“If someone has been performing at their peak, that’s great, but there are other players, especially young players that have the head room to get better. So you’re always looking for that potential. And when you put all that together, with time, I think that formula works.”
Tsai added that the one thing that the Nets and Liberty share is avoiding short cuts in their rebuilds. The Liberty were 7-27 last season and. much like the Nets did, have chosen to improve organically, re-signing franchise player Tina Charles and drafting Han and Louisville star Asia Durr. The Liberty’s biggest move, in fact, may have been hiring Jonathan Kolb as GM. Kolb, who worked in the WNBA’s headquarters, is seen as a systems guy, with an eye towards analytics, not something the women’s league has fully embraced.
Asked what was the most encouraging thing about his first year as an NBA owner, Tsai didn’t hesitate.
“We made the playoffs!” Tsai exclaimed. “I mean this is my first year of --my first full year-- of ownership. To be able to step into this situation -- I didn’t create this. I sort of inherited this situation and credit goes to Mikhail Prokhorov for taking us so far. So I feel extremely encouraged that the development of the team with a young core is where we are today.”
Tsai also must have derived encouragement from the Liberty’s exhibition game vs. the Chinese Women’s National Team Thursday night at Barclays. With Tsai and his wife, Clara Wu sitting courtside and Han scoring 19, grabbing five boards and handing out three assists, the Liberty won 89-71. The game attracted 4,115 fans.
The Liberty open their 2019 schedule with three preseason games starting Monday at the Mohegan Sun Arena vs. the Connecticut Sun. The home opener is in White Plains on May 24.
As for the Nets, the next time they will take the court will be preseason, which they will open in Shanghai on October 10 vs. the Lakers.
- Joe Tsai breaks silence as he waits for full Nets control — and more - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Han Xu scores 19 for Liberty vs. Chinese National Team - Brian Heyman - Newsday
- Nets owner Joe Tsai: Sean Marks, Kenny Atkinson on the right track - Greg Logan - Newsday
- W.N.B.A. Rookie Han Xu Brings Hope for a Deeper Connection to China - Seth Berkman - New York Times
- New York Liberty owner Joseph Tsai on getting into the WNBA, drafting Han Xu - Kevin Wang - ESPN
- Liberty owner Joe Tsai wants to help grow US-China relations - Doug Feinberg - AP
- In what figures to be a potentially transformative summer, here are 10 free agent options the Nets should consider - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York
- Joe Tsai, The New York Liberty And The Growth Mindset At Barclays Center - Howard Megdal - Forbes
- New York Liberty takeaways: Han Xu shines in WNBA Barclays debut - Erica Ayala - High Post Hoops
- Nurse and Xu Lead Liberty To 89-71 Preseason Win over Chinese National Team in Brooklyn Debut - New York Liberty
- Box Score: New York Liberty 89, Chinese Women’s National Team 71 - WNBA.com
- Katie Smith, Han Xu meet the media (Video) - High Post Hoops
- Han Xu On What It Means To Represent China in the WNBA (Video) - WNBA.com