MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is bringing in two new minority partners to his ownership group, including the NBA’s first Chinese owner, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
Shanghai investor Lizhang Jiang and New Jersey real estate mogul Meyer Orbach are joining the Timberwolves’ ownership group, the person said Monday on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been finalized. The person said Orbach has agreed to acquire 9.5 per cent of the team while Lizhang will be brought in at 5 per cent. The 35-year-old Lizhang works in sports marketing in China.
The NBA has long been heavily invested in growing the game in China, with former Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming helping to make the league wildly popular in a nation of 1.4 billion people. And even though Liang will only buy 5 per cent of the team, his presence could help raise the Timberwolves’ profile in China and bring new marketing possibilities to a team that historically has not been a big seller abroad.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert negotiated with a Chinese group to sell 15 per cent of the team back in 2009, but that deal never was completed.
Orbach heads the Orbach Group, a prominent real estate development company based in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The company owns apartment buildings in New Jersey and New York.
Taylor has long been in search of a successor for the Timberwolves, a person or group committed to keeping the team in Minnesota while also allowing him to continue to operate as the majority partner for the next couple of years. He was in serious discussions with a group led by Memphis minority owner Steve Kaplan last year, but Kaplan’s inability to extricate himself from the Grizzlies have stunted that process.
When Taylor hired a new leadership team in basketball operations in April, naming Tom Thibodeau has coach and president and Scott Layden as general manager, he made it clear that he planned to be at the top of the Wolves for some time.
At that point, Taylor had already identified Liang and Orbach as future investors who could provide significant cash but did not have the same designs on a future majority role that Kaplan had when negotiations opened up last year.
There remains some optimism on Kaplan’s side that a deal could eventually be completed that would allow him to take on a 30 per cent share initially before taking over from Taylor in a few years. But Taylor is moving ahead for now with Thibodeau on board and a promising young roster that includes Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Minnesota has played 12 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth.