The New York Liberty’s preseason opener served a dual purpose.
The Liberty defeated the Chinese National Team, 89-71, in Thursday’s exhibition game at Barclays Center. Han Xu, the Liberty’s second-round draft pick, scored a team-high 19 points along with teammate Kia Nurse.
The game was part of first-year owner Joseph Tsai’s vision of improving relations between the United States and China. Tsai, who owns 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and made headlines by getting fined last month, is also hoping the Liberty will soon improve its exposure by playing at Barclays Center.
Tsai wants to grow US, China relations
Tsai is the co-founder of Alibaba Group, China’s largest online commerce company. He said before the Liberty’s preseason opener that he’s constantly asked about relations between China and the U.S during his work travels.
“I’m steeped in this discussion and find myself having to explain China to Americans a lot. This game, by bringing the national women’s team from China, is that it’s a platform for the two cultures to see how each other compete. You learn a little more about each other’s cultures. This is absolutely important. If there were more opportunities for me to support these kinds of changes, I’d do more of that.”
Tsai’s comments came during a pre-game news conference hours before President Donald Trump made good on his promise to boost tariffs Friday on $200 million in goods from China. Talks continue as the U.S. threatens more and China considers retaliation.
More Chinese players for Nets, Liberty?
Han, at 6-foot-9, is the second tallest player in WNBA history. The Liberty drafted the 19-year-old center with the 14th overall pick in the draft and she garners comparisons to Yao Ming for what she could do for the women’s game in Asia.
She is the first graduate of the NBA Acadamies program, which helps develop young talent around the world, to be drafted by an NBA or WNBA team. And is second Chinese woman drafted, yet the fifth overall to see playing time, per Newsday.
Tsai, who serves on the board of directors for NBA China, wants to see more talent from China join the professional ranks in the U.S. He told Nets Daily:
“I have said, I’ve been on record saying if there’s good Chinese players, I would do anything to help them come — if they want to come play in the NBA, I would do anything to help them do that.
“I would be very pleased if we had someone [on the Nets] from China. China is a large country with a large population, a strong passion for basketball, and also with the authorities very focused on developing sports. I think it’s just a matter of time.”
Tsai stressed that he would leave the decision up to his basketball people. The Liberty are using Han in marketing and created a team account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, according to Newsday.
Barclays opener serves as Brooklyn test
The preseason game at Barclays Center served as a litmus test for what considered an imminent move to Brooklyn for the Liberty. Geoff Magliocchetti of Elite Sports NY noted the impact and veteran Tina Charles told Newsday it was the “only other ideal place that’s suitable for a professional women’s basketball team.”
The team had a rough 2018 season that went beyond the 7-27 record. The Madison Square Garden (MSG) company and CEO James Dolan decided to sell the team in November 2017. MSG owned the team since its inception in 1997. When a buyer wasn’t found by the start of the season, they sent the team to play in Westchester, 30 miles from its fan base.
At the time the Liberty had the fourth-best attendance in the league by averaging nearly 10,000 a game, per Sports Business Daily, while the league experiences continued growth. Loyal New York fans were rewarded with a long trip to the Westchester County Center, a place that as the New York Times detailed is not designed to accommodate basketball and has a capacity of 2,319.
There were an announced 4,115 people at the exhibition game at Barclays Center that took place on a weeknight with school still in session and the NBA playoffs on TV.
Objectively the WNBA’s biggest challenge, underlined by the WNBA players association’s reason for opting out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, is marketing and media support.
“As an owner the most important thing for me is to build up the fan base,” Tsai said. “That’s the foundation of everything. If you have more fans your media value and your sponsorship rights value will increase. It brings more value to the whole team and league.”
Tsai said in his press conference, per Nets Daily, he wants to “opportunity” to “participate” in owning Barclays Center both for the Nets and to bring the Liberty there.
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