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Clara Wu Tsai wants to use team ownership as ‘megaphone’ to affect social justice, economic mobility

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Clara Wu Tsai, as co-owner of the Nets and Liberty with her husband Joe, regularly sits courtside at Barclays Center with both her children and celebrities of all manner. She is, it can be argued, a more visible presence than Joe who’s often in China or elsewhere tending to Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, and other businesses.

And as she said Saturday night while hosting 25 children of incarcerated mothers at the Magic game, she plans on being equally visible — and heard — in pushing her personal agendas of social justice and economic mobility. She likened having an NBA team to a “megaphone” on the issues she and the players hold dear.

“As governors and stewards of our NBA team and our WNBA team, we have a megaphone and I really like to use it to amplify messages that are important to me, that are important to our players and the team,” she told the media covering the event. Wu Tsai was with Meek Mill Saturday, the two of them among the leaders of the REFORM Alliance, which aims to reform the criminal justice system starting with the parole and probation systems. Didi Richards of the Liberty and Sean Marks, the Nets GM, were also on hand to mingle and talk with the kids and their parents. The kids were also treated to a shopping spree at the Fanatics Store.

Wu Tsai also spoke about the connection between criminal justice reform and economic mobility, which she and her husband have tried to address with the creation of a $50 million loan program, the Social Justice Fund for Brooklyn.

“One of them is criminal justice reform,” she said, adding, “As some of you know, I’m very interested in economic mobility, changing the trajectories of people, especially those who haven’t had as many opportunities as others. And you can’t really talk about economic mobility in urban areas without addressing criminal justice reform.”

She noted as well that 2021 has been a “hard year” but it’s harder for those incarcerated for technical violations of parole and probation. That, she said, was behind the children’s holiday event at Barclays Center.

“It’s been a really hard year for the world and a really hard year for the country. And when it’s a really hard year. And when it’s hard time for the country and the world, it’s even harder for those affected by the criminal justice system. So today is really a day for people to have a lot of joy with their friends and their families in particular and just be able to celebrate.”

She also talked about how racial bias is present in the criminal justice system.

“I understand that there are biases in the criminal justice system, particularly racial biases. I believe in second chances, I believe in all the missions of the REFORM Alliance. I’m aware of it. I will keep speaking about it.”

The Alliance is funded in part by the Joe and Clara Wu Tsai Foundation, as is the Social Justice Fund, Its formation was inspired by Mill’s own incarcerations for probation violations. Working with Michael Rubin of Fanatics and a minority owner of the Sixers, Mill finally won his freedom in April 2018 and arrived dramatically at 76ers playoff game.

In general, Wu Tsai said she intends to give back in this and other areas, reiterating that owning the Nets and Liberty helps her “amplify” issues important not just to her but to the players on the two teams.

“[Giving back] means the world to me. Building the community and making a connection to the community is so important to me personally and to me, one of the greatest benefits and rewards of having a team, especially when I can amplify an issue that I personally care about,” she noted. “Luckily in our cases, there’s a wonderful convergence between these issue I care about and issues many of the players care about also.”

Indeed, a number of Nets players, including Kevin Durant and James Harden have publicly spoken about how much they appreciate their connection with Wu Tsai. In October, Harden mentioned her as one of the reasons why he loved being in Brooklyn.

“I love it here. Myself, Joe [Tsai], Clara [Tsai], Sean [Marks], the front office, Steve [Nash] and from top to bottom, the communication has been unbelievable and amazing,” said Harden.

And last month in an interview with YES Network’s Michael Grady, Wu Tsai spoke of how much she missed talking with Kyrie Irving on social issues and watching him play.

“Kyrie has done great philanthropic work both locally and globally and he cares so much about humanity. He and I have had several conversations over the years about issues that we care about. namely social justice and empowering women and women of the NBA,” said Wu Tsai.

“These are things he really cares about and we’ve really connected over that. I have to say that I really miss seeing Kyrie on the court and looking forward to having him rejoin us.”