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Joe and Clara Wu Tsai: Donations of ventilators, PPE ‘the least we could do’

In an interview on the Liberty Facebook page Friday, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai spoke about the WNBA Draft that night but also about their donations of ventilators and protective personal equipment to New York and New Jersey earlier in the month. The two spoke from their southern California home.

“We brought in a large quantity of PPE, protective personal equipment, to the front line workers because as soon as the pandemic just reached crisis proportions, we really wanted to help front line workers,” said Wu Tsai, who added that she and Joe had used Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, to source the equipment which reportedly cost $7 million.

“We tapped into our supply network and were able to secure a large volume of quality masks and ventilators which we then brought into New York City hospitals to deliberately spread them to the hospitals and nursing homes that were underserved,” she added,

“It was the least we could do,” Wu Tsai told Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, the Liberty broadcaster. “The front line workers really are the heroes of this and their health and safety are really the most important.”

She also also noted that most of the material was distributed to the city’s outer boroughs, All told, the two shipments from Shanghai to New York provided 2.6 million masks, about half surgical masks half N95 respirators, as well as 2,000 ventilators and 170,000 goggles to facilities in New York and New Jersey.

Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy have personally thanked the Tsais, particularly for the ventilators which were delivered at a time of severe shortages.

Joe Tsai also spoke about his decision to extend the pay of hourly wage workers at Barclays Center through at least the end of May. At that point, he said, “we will see what happens.”

“So what do we do with all our hourly wage workers that are working so hard. You see them every day when you’re in the arena. They’re the ushers that are taking you to your seats. They’re the people who are providing security, the people that are providing the food service,” he noted.

“So we made a commitment very early that we were going to provide them with the same pay as though we had continued the games and concerts through the end of May and then we will see what happens.”

In fact, a union spokesman told ESPN that the commitment to the hourly workers extends beyond the arena’s own employees. The food service workers Tsai referenced —625 in all— are employed not by the arena, but by Levy. The team and arena will pay their salaries for missed Nets games, the spokesman said, As ESPN noted, that’s not common in the NBA or other sports leagues.

Tsai also spoke about how odd it was in California in the days before and after the NBA shut down.

“I must say, this thing hit us from out of nowhere,” he recalled. “The day before the NBA decided to suspend its season, that was March 11, The prior day, the Nets were playing the Lakers at Staples Center before a packed house. It just shows how unexpected this whole thing was.”

More recently, it was announced that the Tsais have donated a half million pieces of PPE to San Diego hospitals to be distributed by UC San Diego Health. Joe Tsai is owner of the San Diego Seals in the National Lacrosse League and a resident of nearby LaJolla.

“We really wanted to help the front-line workers,” Clara Tsai told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday. “Largely our plan is (to send the supplies) to UCSD hospitals, Sharp, Scripps, Palomar, Kaiser and the VA.”

On the Liberty, Wu Tsai laid out an ambitious program for the team which will be led by first round pick Sabrina Ionescu. Key to that plan, she said, was the move to Brooklyn which will happen whenever the WNBA starts up again. The couple are co-owners of the franchise.

“We have to say that the New York Liberty we’ve always believed they deserved a much bigger stage than Westchester. So not only were the Liberty one of the founding teams in the NBA but New York is the quintessential ultimate basketball town. So we’re really happy to bring the Liberty front and center to New York City,” she said.

“Overall, of course, we’re thrilled that we have a generational talent in Sabrina but at the same time, we also have a great young core of players that will form an incredible team with players like Asia Durr and Kia Nurse. In addition to that we have a lot of great international players as well. We have Rebecca Allen from Australia, Marine Johannes from France and of course Han Xu from China. Honestly, the New York Liberty deserve a national stage, they deserve an international stage.”

Joe Tsai said his decision to buy the Liberty (from James Dolan) was “natural” after he agreed to buy the Nets.

“As you know we first bought into the Brooklyn Nets first. So after that, it became natural that we would have a women’s team. When the New York Liberty was up for sale. The beauty of that symmetry was so obvious. We have a men’s basketball team in New York. Why not have a women’s basketball team?”

The two also noted that WNBA is a different game in many ways from its NBA counterpart.

“The NBA is a great game but the WNBA is beautiful to watch with the shot selection, the crisp passing,” said Wu Tsai, “I think the fans are in for a great treat and I think they can really enjoy it independently from the men’s game.”

Wu Tsai said the organization will have to bring back Liberty fans who once flocked to Madison Square Garden but were lost when the team moved to Westchester.

“We need to get those fans back. He need to bring in those fans from the boroughs and from New Jersey. As soon as we build that fan base, we’re going to have national recognition,” she said. “Its’s going to be great for the team, great for the league. So we’re really excited.”

The couple admitted that they had personally scouted Ionescu earlier this season, watching her play for Oregon vs. Stanford, hours after Ionescu gave one of the eulogies at the Kobe and Gigi Bryant memorial service at Staples Center. Tsai called the point guard, “literally electrifying.”

“I think she’s going to be a natural leader for us,” he said. “She’s going to come in and people are going to respect her. I think she will add to New York City, not just on the court but off teh court.

“So we’re extremely excited.”