Why the next NBA team owner could be from China

With David Stern forever pushing for global expansion of the NBA, what better way than by leaving the front door of the league wide open in Stern’s basketball business melting pot plan.

We have seen it in Sacramento and Brooklyn — the Kings ownership group is led by Vivek Ranadive, the Silicon Valley software tycoon who was born in India, while Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the New Jersey Nets in 2010 for $200 million and became the first owner of an NBA team from outside North America.

Now it is China’s turn.

Stern has five more months on the job before he turns the keys of the league over to Adam Silver and while expanding the game around the world has been Stern’s driving force behind his role as commissioner, the NBA is growing closer and closer to Chinese investors putting down stakes in the league. It may not happen during Stern’s time in office, but the interest is certainly there.

"We have been approached by, I will say Chinese investors, as we don't count their money to see whether they are billionaires or multi-billionaires," said Stern during an interview while promoting the NBA Global Games in China.

"If these markets want to invest in the NBA by buying goods, if they would like to buy television rights and certainly if they would like to buy franchises or invest in franchises, I think it's a very good thing. I have been in favor of that for years."

China’s love affair with the NBA can easily be rooted in the arrival of Yao Ming to the league back in 2002 as a member of the Houston Rockets and up until his retirement from the game in 2011. And while many can see Yao one day spearheading the movement to purchase an NBA franchise, right now the NBA and Yao are making another “investment” together.

Last week, NBA China and Yao Ming announced a partnership to develop and operate the first-ever NBA Yao School in Beijing. Launching in February 2014, the NBA Yao School will provide after-school basketball training and fitness programs for boys and girls up to age 16 at all skill levels. 

"When Yao retired, he said he was leaving the court but not the game, and he remains an extraordinary ambassador for our sport," said Stern.

"We are honored to continue working with Yao to grow and develop basketball in China."

The school will not only “teach the importance of teamwork, leadership and communication in a fun basketball environment” but it also provides the league a concrete chance to secure deeper relationships overseas, and one that has the potential for China and the NBA to continue business on a “team ownership” level if/when a Chinese investor(s) feels ready to go all in with the NBA.

It is only a matter of time.