Business & Technology

Jiang Lizhang

Millions of Chinese fans adore NBA teams. He owns a piece of one.

Minority owner, Minnesota Timberwolves

In October 2017, the Minnesota Timberwolves will play in China for the first time in the team’s history, facing the Golden State Warriors for two games in Shenzhen and Shanghai. The man responsible: multimillionaire Jiang Lizhang, who in June 2016 bought a 5 percent stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves, making him the first Chinese citizen to hold a minority stake in an NBA team. Basketball is among the most popular sports in China, minting cross-cultural superstars like Stephon Marbury — also on this year’s list — as well as retired NBA players like Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant.

It’s only fitting that one NBA team finally has a Chinese owner. Chinese fans have adored the NBA for years, although government protectionism has helped ensure the league has been unable to execute on its once-grand strategy for Chinese market domination. Meanwhile, wealthy Chinese have been buying up foreign soccer teams and spending lavishly on players since Chinese President Xi Jinping, a soccer fan, came to power in 2012. Jiang is the first Chinese buyers to turn his attention and capital to basketball. The goal of the purchase, Jiang said, was to “establish connections between the NBA and the Chinese market.” He may yet succeed where the NBA earlier fell short.

(Photo credit: Jin Yu/Xinhua via Getty Images)

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