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The Nets deserve a better owner than Joe Tsai | Opinion

December 3, 2019 Sean Roman Strockyj

Each day Hong Kong citizens continue to battle a regime that threatens their freedom, and without our support they will only be able to hold on for so long.

While we live in an age in which you can be ostracized for a comment or tweet that offends certain sensibilities, owning a popular New York City sports franchise while embracing the authoritarian power China is imposing over its people remains, sadly, quite acceptable.

It is deeply troubling that Nets ownership is dominated by Joseph Tsai, whose Hong Kong viewpoint is akin to Beijing’s. Tsai, who purchased the team a few months ago, holds dual citizenship in Taiwan and Canada. He is an owner of China’s most valuable company, Alibaba, and is a product of the best in Western education — namely Yale.

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Tsai’s first public statement to Brooklyn fans was a Facebook post critical of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s memorable tweet, “Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong,” which exposed the NBA’s willingness to place growth and profits ahead of citizenship. Tsai wrote that Morey’s tweet “will take a long time to repair.”

However, Morey’s message is not something to “repair.” It continues to be, now more than ever, a battle cry for basic freedom. It is seven words that symbolizes how Hong Kong’s residents are uniting and overwhelmingly support the protesters who put their lives in jeopardy every time they gather, as demonstrated by the stunning election results from Nov. 24th, where more than half the 452 seats in local elections flipped from pro-Beijing to pro-democracy candidates.

Tsai labeled sympathy for the protestors as a “third rail” issue those in the West cannot understand. He voiced that 1.4 billion Chinese are united in solidarity against a “separatist movement.” This is delusional — or Tsai has zero ability to acknowledge Chinese citizens cannot express themselves freely. If they do anything other than parrot the party line, they risk the fate of an Orwellian protagonist.

Tsai should reflect on the image an unknown man stopping the advance of tanks leaving Tiananmen square in 1989. Tank Man was escorted from the thoroughfare never to be heard from again while hundreds or thousands of protestors, many just students, were killed. This is the oppression Hong Kong citizens came out against once China floated extradition for dissidents and doubled their garrison on the Island. Since the 1997 handover, many knew it was a matter of time before China subjugated their way of life.

Tsai is not fit to own a sports franchise in this city. Our teams are reservoirs of our passions and represent the texture of our communities. The borough of Brooklyn, where it is said one of seven Americans can trace their roots, is the transcendent American locale. The corporate face of the Brooklyn Nets should not align itself with a repressive system that does not tolerate citizens being able to question their government and chart their own course.

Tsai’s convictions should be compared to the idiotic racist musings former Clipper’s owner, Donald Sterling, made to his mistress. The NBA could barely move fast enough to strip the team from Sterling and ban him for whatever remaining years the octogenarian has left. More than personal failings, Sterling was ousted because of the business interests of the league. With the Morley tweet, the goal of expanding into the world’s largest basketball market collided with our long-standing support of democracies that are threatened. Yet given the financial stakes, there hasn’t been a hint of outrage from NBA brass directed towards Tsai.

The reaction of the league has been a careful balancing of interests and the hope public sympathies are focused elsewhere. The NBA also appears to be thrilled to have Tsai act as a bridge to the world’s largest basketball crazy market. This is unfortunate.

Hong Kong citizens are willing to fight for the right to maintain a level of independence. We should help them any way we can and not support those, such as Tsai, who overtly reject basic American values. He should be encouraged to resell the team.

Sean Roman Strockyj is an opinion writer from Queens and avid New York sports fan. His writing can be found in Crains, the New York Post, and the Daily News.

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