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Joe Tsai: ‘NBA is working to get our relationship with China back on track’

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New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In an interview with Ian Eagle that aired prior to the Nets - 76ers game, Joe Tsai said the NBA and China are working to rebuild their relationship, referring to last fall’s controversy as “a short-term setback” in a four decade-long affiliation.

In the YES interview. Tsai noted the popularity of hoops in China and the importance of international basketball to the NBA’s future.

“Well, the NBA is global; it’s a global sport. Basketball is played everywhere in the world, and in China there’s over 300 million people that play basketball, that watch NBA games. Also let’s put this thing in a historical perspective; the NBA has been in China for 40 years.

“So when you look at these 40 years — all the history of the NBA in China, all the goodwill the NBA has built up — you have to take a long-term perspective. Now, we sort of have a short-term setback. Both sides are working to get our relationship back on track. The key thing is we need be broadcast on TV back in China.

“There’s talk NBA ratings are kind of down for various reasons. But we don’t want to see ratings go down globally. We need the NBA games to be back on TV in China.”

Tsai didn’t detail what the NBA is doing to repair the relationship and what his role —as the NBA’s only Chinese owner— has been. The controversy began with a tweet from Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, offering support for Hong Kong’s protests, The tweet was quickly taken down and was never seen in China but Beijing took NBA games off CCTV-5, its national sports network, and threatened the NBA China Games between the Nets and Lakers.

Tsai, in trying to explain why the Morey tweet was so offensive, found himself drawn into the controversy. Just this week, the NBA announced that all 30 teams will celebrate Chinese New Year with various in-game elements, fan giveaways, musical performances, social media content, Chinese food, courtside signage, concourse decorations and sponsor events.

Moreover, Bruce Bowen, Shawn Marion, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutombo, visited China last week to conduct basketball clinics and interact with underprivileged children as part of the New Year’s festivities.

The Nets owner, who paid a record $3.4 billion for the Nets and Barclays Center, spoke as well about other aspects of owning the team, starting with why he sits courtside, unlike his predecessor, Mikhail Prokhorov who sat high about the fray in his double suite...

“I just like to be at the courtside. because you really appreciate how hard these guys work. the physicality, the athleticism really coems through when you’re at courtside. The fans see me. I think that’s a good thing they see that the owner is engaged in what they do. It’s all positive...

“I want to be among the fans because I’m one of them. I feel like not very much of an owner. I’m a custodian of a very important New York institution for the fans.”

On his relationship with Sean Marks, Tsai admitted he’s a bit reluctant to offer his thoughts on the team...

“Sean and I have a great relationship. Sean and I have in fact built up mutual trust over the last two years when I was just a partial owner of the team. So i think there’s a lot of transparency in how we deal with each other. He’s not afraid to be very open and share with me his thoughts. I’m afraid to tell him what I think...

“I think long-term patience is really important.”

In that same vein, Tsai reiterated that he’s willing to pay the luxury tax if needed...

”We know the fans expect us to win a championship...if we pay luxury tax, so be it.”

“And the good thing is I believe that we do have the pieces in place.”

“Now we have some injuries and people are coming back. But the fundamental pieces are in place to perhaps go all the way, so I’m absolutely comfortable that if we pay the luxury tax that’s fine.”

Tsai, who has residences in Hong Kong and La Jolla, a suburb of San Diego, and/or his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, have attended most Nets games this season.