NBA owners under the microscope over billions tied to China: report

NBA owners were scrutinized Thursday as a new report detailed just how much money some have tied up in Chinese investments.

NBA owners have around $10 billion in Chinese ventures despite the government’s authoritarian crackdown on free speech and the imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in the country, ESPN reported, citing a study conducted by a New York-based firm called Strategy Risks.


Michael Jordan at a press conference in 2020

Michael Jordan attends a press conference before the NBA Paris game between Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 24, 2020. (Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The study highlighted the investments of Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison, Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, Sacramento Kings co-owner Paul Jacobs, Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Philadelphia 76ers’ principal owner Joshua Harris.

While some owners endorsed the NBA’s initiative to highlight the social justice effort in the United States, all have remained quiet on China’s human rights violations. China’s crackdown on Hong Kong protesters in 2019 over a new national security law came to the forefront of the league.

Then-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters as the Nets were about to face off against the Los Angeles Lakers in Shanghai. Morey tweeted “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” before deleting it after backlash.

The tweet had a ripple effect throughout the NBA. China would pull NBA games off its state-owned TV only to return ahead of this season’s NBA playoffs, ESPN reported.

Tsai, who was born in Taiwan, is a naturalized Canadian citizen who holds a Hong Kong passport. He is a co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba and, in addition to the Nets, owns the WNBA’s New York Liberty and the San Diego Seals of the National Lacrosse League. He reportedly had a rift with Morey over the Hong Kong tweet but denied accusations of uninviting Morey to the Barclays Center for a game between the Rockets and Nets.

Nets' owner Joe Tsai at a conference

Joe Tsai speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on April 29, 2019.  (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Tsai had defended a national security law in Hong Kong in an interview on CNBC and defended China for cracking down on alleged “separatists.”

“What is this for? It’s against sedition. It’s against people that advocate splitting Hong Kong as a separate country. I want to make sure that we prevent foreign powers from carving up our territories. I think Hong Kong should be seen in that context,” he said.


Additionally, Tsai was asked about China cracking down on human rights issues but asked to clarify what the host was talking about. The way he saw it, “the large number of the population – I’m talking about 80-90% of the population – are very, very happy for the fact that their lives are improving every year.”

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He’s also been on the record defending China’s single-party system and the country limiting citizens’ freedoms.

Tsai isn’t the only one whose ties to China appear to be problematic.

Arison, Tsai, Jacobs, Pera, Fertitta and Harris are mentioned in the ESPN study but the report said around 40 principal owners of teams make up the $10 billion tied to Beijing.

Arison has about $375 million tied to China within the team and his primary business Carnival Corp. The company partnered with China State Shipbuilding Corp. to create a China-based cruise line. According to a report, the shipbuilding company has close ties with the Chinese military and is developing the country’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Arison declined to comment, according to ESPN.

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CCL CARNIVAL CORP. 13.66 -0.20 -1.44%

Carnival told the outlet its “joint venture or its JV partner are not designated under any US trade-related sanctions. Carnival Corporation has taken steps to ensure full compliance with relevant US sanctions and export control laws.”

Jacobs is the former CEO of Qualcomm and is still heavily invested in the company. Two-thirds of Qualcomm’s revenue is reportedly earned in China and Hong Kong. Jacobs declined to comment on his dealings with China.

Pera is the founder of Ubiquiti. The company’s manufacturing and logistics operations are based in China. He declined to comment on the study.

Fertitta, whose team was at the center of the Hong Kong firestorm in 2019, is the president and CEO of Landry’s. The restaurant chain has 10 eateries in China. He declined to comment on the study.

Tilman Fertitta is the owner of the NBA's Rockets

Tilman Fertitta is interviewed in New York on April 4, 2012. (Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Jordan’s brand is one of the most well-known in the world. Nike has come under fire over whether they source their materials for their products in the Xinjiang region from forced labor. Nike has denied ever sourcing their materials from Xinjiang.

Jordan Brand store in China

A Nike Air Jordan store is seen at Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street in Shanghai, China, July 21, 2021. (Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Jordan didn’t comment on the ties between his brand and Nike. He donated $100 million to social justice efforts in the U.S.

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The study detailed Harris is exposed in China through a handful of ventures. His parent company Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment owns part of the English Premier League’s Crystal Palace and the e-sports team Dignitas, which generate money through relationships in China. He co-founded the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which has subsidiaries in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

He didn’t comment on the study either.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass defended the league’s media relationship with China.


“We continue to believe that exporting media rights of NBA games to fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, including China, is consistent with our mission to inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball,” the statement said.

The NBA is also facing scrutiny for scheduling preseason games next season in Abu Dhabi. The NBA has been supportive of LGBTQ rights but the message it conveyed by playing games in the UAE has been seen as problematic given that homosexuality is punishable by death.

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