Some additional sales fall-out
It looks like the NBA Board of Governors will take up the sale of the Nets to Joe Tsai late next month, maybe Friday, September 20. With Brett Yormark saying he’s also planning to leave around then, the Nets will officially become Tsai’s team. He can replace people, re-organize things, establish new entities ... just as Mikhail Prokhorov did back in 2010 (although the Russians came to regret they didn’t dump more of Bruce Ratner’s team on arrival.)
We expect no changes in basketball operations. Remember, ownership (with Tsai’s approval) quietly extended Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson over the past year. There’s been nothing official on the length of the extension but one rumor had them getting two years tacked on to their contracts. In addition, key insiders were offered extensions and raises. So no issues there.
On the other side, you will likely see big changes on the business side. Yormark has run the operation for 14 years, mostly with an iron hand. Mike Zavodsky, his No. 2, left days before the sale, also after 14 years. He had started as Yormark’s intern back in 2005. Whether Yormark’s successor is David Levy, formerly of Turner Media, or someone else, expect sweeping changes if not immediately then in the medium to long term. It’s what happens when you have as dramatic a change in ownership as you’re seeing in Brooklyn. And let’s not forget: Joe Tsai made his fortune in e-commerce.
Also, it will be interesting to see how Tsai organizes all his sports entities. They had been gathered under something called J Tsai Sports, part of his family investment vehicle, Blue Pool Capital. In both the press release announcing his purchase of the Nets and Barclays Center as well as in the WNBA press release on the Liberty, the teams’ new ownership group was referred to merely as “an entity controlled by Joe Tsai.” Although Tsai made his fortune with Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant has no ownership interest in any of the sports entities. And to recount, here they are...
—Brooklyn Nets (NBA)
—New York Liberty (WNBA)
—Long Island Nets (G League)
—Nets Gaming Crew (NBA 2K esports)
—San Diego Seals (National Lacrosse League)
—HSS Training Center
We have a good idea how much Tsai paid for the Nets entities —around $3.5 billion— but don’t know how much he paid for the Liberty. The purchase price was never disclosed. Considering that James Dolan was trying to get rid of it for 17 months before the deal closed, the Liberty price tag likely wasn’t very big. According to press reports, the expansion fee for the San Diego Seals was $5 million.
Tsai also has other sports interests beyond controlling those franchises. He has a small ownership interest in the Los Angeles Football Club of the MLS along with a number of California-based celebrities and sports figures. He’s also invested in the Premier Lacrosse League, which is an outdoor league as opposed to the National Lacrosse League which is a “box” or indoor operation.
It should be noted that he’s acquired ALL of that in the last 24 months, starting with the award of the NLL San Diego franchise in August 2017. He agreed to buy a minority stake in the Nets two months later, closing on the 49 percent interest in May 2018. In January of this year, he agreed to buy the Liberty. Then, this spring, he started negotiations to buy Mikhail Prokhorov’s controlling stake in the Nets and Barclays, closing this month.
As we’ve noted, Tsai will be, once the deal is concluded, one of only four owners with control of franchises in the NBA, WNBA, G League and NBA2K. The others are in Minneapolis, Indiana and Washington. And of the other three, only the Wizards Ted Leonsis also controls the arena where his NBA team plays.
Who might we see in significant roles as things move forward?
Oliver Weisberg is Managing Partner for Tsai’s Blue Pool Capital. He’s also been listed as the “alternate governor” of the Liberty, meaning he is Tsai’s representative on the WNBA Board of Governors. He’s worked for some of the world’s biggest banks and investment banking firms and is an expert on China’s economy. He is also an aficionado of squash.
Rich Tao, like Tsai, holds undergraduate and law degrees from Yale. At the age of 5, Tao emigrated from Nanjing, China, to Detroit, He lived and attended school in Cass Corridor, an inner city neighborhood. He became a Pistons fan. He joined Blue Pool after serving a stint as an economic aide to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. He recently moved from Hong Kong to New York and will likely play a significant role in whatever organization Tsai sets up.
Also, Tsai’s wife, Clara Wu Tsai, is his partner on many ventures. She attended several games at the end of last season, sitting courtside with their children. A native of Kansas, where her father was a professor at the university, Wu Tsai has an M.B.A. from Stanford, an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a reputation as a “philanthropic investor.” In that role, she helps the family’s foundation make gifts to various charities. She’s working with Jay-Z, Meek Mill and other sports figures in the Reform Alliance which is dedicated to making changes to the U.S. criminal justice system. She’s also served as an executive at Taobao, the world’s biggest e-commerce website and the seventh most visited website in the world. (Having a spouse to rely on is a big difference for the Nets. Prokhorov of course remains single and for much of his ownership, Bruce Ratner was between wives.)
When might we know what Tsai plans? We’d bet before the end of September. We would think that since he’s been talking to Team Prokhorov about control since the spring, he has a lot already lined up.
Speaking of Tsai’s views of management and leadership, here he is last month talking with David Solomon, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. It’s mostly about Alibaba’s development, but his comments apply to a lot of organizations, presumably his sports entities.
"I think true leaders are humble people. They have the humility to hire people that are smarter than they are, better than they are." - @AlibabaGroup Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai at #GSInnovators with $GS' chairman and CEO David Solomon: https://t.co/FRM35vXeSp #TalksAtGS pic.twitter.com/5sgq4iE6Ia— Goldman Sachs (@GoldmanSachs) July 27, 2019
“Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets”
The Yankees are having a helluva season and could win it all, but our favorite moment of YES Network coverage came the other night between innings when Michael Kay noted which celebrities were on hand at Dodger Stadium in L.A. for the Yankee-Dodger game...
Exciting game in LA=Celebrities in the crowd! pic.twitter.com/HiIkjLttB7— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 24, 2019
There was the great former Yankee Dave Winfield ... and “Look who else is here! Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, recovering from an Achilles injury.” KD was shown in a hoodie, sipping a Diet Coke. Kay moved on quickly to introduce other Hollywood types in the building.
But wait, stop right there! “Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets.” It is still taking a while to get used to that, but it is such a beauteous thing we’ll figure out.
A couple of shooters sort it out, with KD’s help
Speaking of KD (who does play for the Brooklyn Nets!)
The big off-season debate this week was about double-teaming in pick-up games. After a video surfaced of the Suns’ Devin Booker complaining about getting doubled. Booker believes pick-up games are about honing individual skills.
Then, retired All-Star Gilbert Arenas weighed in. “U should be offended when u don’t get double teamed in pickup games and the reason is ... if u get double teamed in the nba how dare some pickup ball cats don’t respect ur game enough to double u,” Arenas wrote on his no.chill.gil Instagram page.
Booker posted a lengthy riposte, including this line. “I didn’t want to spend my lovely Tuesday afternoon passing out of a double. I can work on that with the homies at the house. Much respect, tho, hibachi.”
Trae Young took Booker’s side, tweeting, “When you trying to work on your game, and work on the moves and things you do individually in pick up... it’s annoying getting double teamed in that type of setting.” Joakim Noah, who is all about defense, disagreed.
Then, when everyone else had their say, in stepped Kevin Durant, in his first real public comments since signing with the Nets.
“They doubled this man on the catch. He couldn’t even get his shot off. Nobody is getting better when u double team in the summer,” wrote KD on his easymoneysniper Instagram account. On his @KDTrey5 Twitter account, Durant said players need to “GUARD UP” and defend their man one-on-one.
GUARD UP! It’s pickup, if u weak defensively then work on it in the summer cuz if u need a double during the season then coach sittin u on the yine— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) August 21, 2019
That pretty much ended the debate. When KD speaks... The end.
Brooklyn Kids on camera
The Nets official site has been posting short videos the Nets youngsters getting use to Brooklyn, calling the series, “Summer in the City.” Here are some links... to Theo Pinson, to Dzanan Musa, and to Rodions Kurucs. There are also links to videos to the camps Pinson and Nic Claxton helped run in Brooklyn this summer.
Finally, Michael Grady and Jarrett Allen take a trip to Chinatown, sampling some black fungus in a local eatery (“Not bad,” they agree) and pick out chopsticks as a gift. You know everyone is learning THAT skill as they prepare for the NBA China trip ... and a new owner.
Waiting on press releases, Woj Bombs
Over the next couple of weeks, expect to see a press release or two on how the Nets front office and coaching staff will be reconfigured. It will have nothing to do with the change of ownership, just the normal turnover any business deals with.
Although there have been a series of reports, from domestic and international sources, about staff, the only official announcements about change came in June — the hiring of assistant GM’s Andy Birdsong and Jeff Peterson, to replace Trajan Langdon.
Since then, there’s been no official announcements, but news reports on a number of staff moves, including the elevations of Shaun Fein to Long Island Nets head coach and Ryan Forehan-Kelly to player development coordinator in Brooklyn. Nor has there been anything official on the reported hiring of J.R. Holden, the former CSKA Moscow star and Piston scout. He was tagged as the Nets director of player personnel.
There are still two coaching vacancies left by the departures of Chris Fleming and Pablo Prigioni. There’s also the GM job at Long Island, which was Trajan Langdon’s secondary role.
As we reported this week, Daniel Jones, who had been the strength and conditioning coach for the North Melbourne Football Club in Australia, is now Physical Development Coach in Brooklyn. According to his LinkedIn account, he’s been with the Nets a few weeks. That’s a new title, Physical Development Coach. He joins another North Melbourne alumni, Dan Meehan, who’s the Nets director of sports science. Les Gelis, the Nets director of sports medicine, is also from Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Zach Weatherford, first director of the Nets performance team, left Brooklyn in June. He had been the former Navy SEALS human performance director. One insider told us the primary strength of the performance team will always be the system rather than personnel.
Meanwhile, on the court, the Nets still have a two-way deal to fill along with two training camp invites. The Nets didn’t officially sign Alan Williams, their second two-way last year, until September 17.
It was ALWAYS about Brooklyn
Nothing that’s happened this summer would have happened without Brooklyn, New York. The Nets are a big city team in addition to being well-run. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving don’t sign with the Nets. Joe Tsai doesn’t spend $3.5 billion to buy the team and arena.
It took a long time to get there, as Brett Yormark said in his speech to his staff, with first Bruce Ratner then Mikhail Prokhorov pushing for it.
So that got us to searching and we found the architectural renderings for Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards, done for Ratner by Frank Gehry, then and now the most famous architect in the world.
We thought those of you who weren’t fans a dozen years might find the original plans interesting. First, the overall scale was enormous...
Here’s a tight look at “arena block” and surrounding towers. The building center right with the green roof ... that’s the planned arena. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower is at the far left.
And here’s a closer look at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, dominated by Gehry’s “Miss Brooklyn,” a 500-foot skyscraper that in this model sits where the plaza outside Barclays is located.
That building —and idea— has been abandoned. Now, the owners of the project, Shanghai’s Greenland Partners, wants to move the “mass” of that proposal across the street and build a taller and larger building where P.C. Richards and Modell’s sit. Like seemingly everything about the project, it’s stuck in the courts and New York’s regulatory process.
And here’s the centerpiece for Nets fans. The arena was supposed to be much larger than what ultimately became Barclays Center.
Remember, Gehry’s drawings were completed in the mid-2000’s when Jason Kidd was still running the show.
As opposition to the overall project grew and the Great Recession hit, the plans had to change. Gehry’s arena was nestled among three towers with all four buildings sharing infrastructure. By the time Bruce Ratner got approval to build the arena, the Recession was at its peak and there was no financing available for housing. So the arena was built first. The three towers would come later. In fact, the Brooklyn arena was grandfathered into a federal tax benefit for arenas and stadiums at nearly the last minute. Now, two of the three towers envisioned for the arena block are complete and a third, the biggest of the three at 52 stories, is just getting underway.
Pacific Park is in various stages of development and its promise of affordable housing is threatened by a number of issues, including the definition of “affordable.”
We are everywhere, including in east African nation of Tanzania where the local mini-vans, called dala dalas, often borrow big popular brands.
I’ve been off Twitter during vacation but want to express my appreciation for the dala dala minibuses of Tanzania. Including this member of @BrooklynNets nation pic.twitter.com/HPYnn3xfM0— Christopher Kozal Brennan (@CKozalBrennan) August 24, 2019
This one is in the streets of Kilimanjaro, at the base of Africa’s tallest mountain and a big tourist district for the East African nation.
Kozal Brennan, a writer, notes that in addition to the Nets, Arsenal and Che Guevara are also represented on dala dalas.
And also, congratulations again to Joe Harris, who will be playing next weekend for Team USA in Shanghai. Win it all, Joey.
You’ll be able to watch Team USA’s final warm-up vs. Canada at 5:30 a.m. ET Monday morning and again at 8 p.m. on NBA TV, which will carry the games.
On Sunday, September 1, Team USA will open its defense of the Cup in Shanghai vs. the Czech Republic. Game starts at 8:30 a.m. ET
On Tuesday, September 3, it will be another early morning viewing experience, vs. Turkey. That game also starts at 8:30 a.m. ET
On Thursday, September 5, Japan will be the opponent, again at 8:30 a.m. ET.
After that, the schedule depends on team records as they enter the second round of the World Cup. Assuming the US moves on, it will travel from Shanghai to Shenzhen for second round games. Harris will be playing on those same courts in Shanghai and Shenzhen when the Nets travel to China for their preseason games vs. the Lakers.