Those who know Tsai describe him as smart and low key, someone who intentionally stayed in the shadow of the eloquent and high-profile Ma because he believed that a company needed only one spokesman.
By Monday afternoon, Alibaba’s Taobao, a sales website, had essentially taken Houston Rockets products off the platform. The official Weibo account of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, quoted an Alibaba spokesman as saying that Morey’s Twitter speech had severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.
Tsai’s foray into professional American basketball was unusual. The vast majority of professional sports franchises in the United States are owned by white men, not people of color. Also, the acquisition was a rare example of an American sports team being acquired with mostly foreign money — although in this case, the franchise’s previous owner was a Russian billionaire. But Tsai seemed like an ideal fit for the N.B.A., especially to tap into the rabid basketball fan base in China.
In October 2017, Tsai paid a little more than $1 billion to acquire 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail D. Prokhorov; the team had achieved mostly middling results on the court since he offered to buy the franchise in 2009. That deal came on the heels of several Chinese entrants into the sports market, such as a $650 million acquisition of the Ironman competition in 2015 by the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda.
Tsai played lacrosse at Yale, and just months before the announcement of the Nets acquisition he purchased the San Diego franchise of the National Lacrosse League. At Yale Law School, Tsai occasionally played pickup basketball with a future Supreme Court justice, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Both of Tsai’s children also play basketball.
Earlier this year, Tsai purchased a W.N.B.A. team, the New York Liberty, from the Madison Square Garden ownership group. In April, the Liberty drafted Han Xu, a 6-foot-9 center, a Chinese national with enough of a following in her home country to draw comparisons to Yao Ming’s journey to the United States.