Retired basketball star Yao Ming said “anything is possible,” amid speculation the former Houston Rockets center is putting together a bid for the Los Angeles Clippers with a group of Chinese investors.
Yao, who owns the Shanghai Sharks basketball team in China, is assembling a group to buy the Clippers franchise, sports channel ESPN reported on its website, citing unidentified sources The National Basketball Association told owner Donald Sterling last week that it intends to force a sale in the wake of racist comments that got him banned from the league for life.
“I know there are a lot of rumors but I don’t think I have time to clarify the rumors one by one,” Yao, 33, told journalists yesterday in Beijing where he was attending a graduation ceremony at a basketball school named after him. “Nowadays, sports are globalized and anything is possible, but so far, there is nothing substantial.”
The NBA’s Board of Governors has scheduled a June 3 hearing on whether to force billionaire Sterling, 80, to sell the team after a recording of him telling a female friend not to bring black people to Clippers games was posted on TMZ.com. Sterling has agreed to let his wife Shelly oversee a sale of the team he bought in 1981 for about $12 million, Bloomberg News reported on May 23, citing two people with direct knowledge of their decision. She is seeking more than $1 billion for the team, according to Bloomberg News.
A number of suitors have expressed an interest in buying what has been Los Angeles’s second-tier basketball team behind the Lakers. They include music executive David Geffen, whose bid group would include Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison and Oprah Winfrey.
Other interested parties include Live Nation Entertainment Inc. Chairman Irving Azoff and basketball hall of famer Magic Johnson.
Shanghai-born Yao, who is 7-foot-6 tall, retired from the NBA in July 2011 after eight seasons with the Houston Rockets due to foot and ankle injuries. He formed a partnership with the NBA in China in 2012 to develop youth programs and increase participation in the sport in the world’s most-populous country.
“China is just basketball crazy,” David Shoemaker, the chief executive officer of the NBA in China, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday in Beijing. The 70 million NBA fans and followers of social media in China have “a voracious appetite to consume everything about the NBA whether it’s to buy jerseys or to get emoticons for their smartphones,” he said.
The association started building a 12,000 square meter NBA Center on the outskirts of Beijing this year. “We’re trying to bring all of that excitement that NBA has to offer into a brick and mortar establishment,” Shoemaker said.
— With assistance by Feiwen Rong