In both cases, they put their money where their hearts were.
The two new Timberwolves minority owners were in Las Vegas this week. New York/New Jersey real estate developer Meyer Orbach and Lizhang Jiang, the first Chinese citizen to own part of an NBA team, were there for meetings and to watch a little Summer League basketball.
In telephone interviews, both made it clear that buying into Glen Taylor’s Timberwolves — Orbach with a 9.5 percent share, Jiang with a 5 percent — was the perfect combination of business and pleasure.
Orbach already has bought season tickets to the Wolves and his kids have begun asking when they can come to games.
Through an interpreter Jiang, 35, the Shanghai-based owner of a sports marketing firm, talked about growing up a Michael Jordan fan and watching the impact Yao Ming had on building the sport in China.
“You see fans imitating signature moves of stars,” he said. “Me included. Now I’m a fan of [Stephen] Curry. I sometimes imitate his moves shooting three-pointers. The NBA has had a huge impact on fans in China.”
Jiang’s goal is to keep that interest rising.
Orbach and Jiang are minority owners, but they won’t be silent partners. Taylor stressed that. In fact, he said he’s counting on Orbach, Jiang and recently-hired CEO Ethan Casson — all three very successful and relatively young — to invigorate the Timberwolves and Lynx in terms of marketing and sponsorships.
Neither Jiang nor Orbach will be involved on the basketball side.
“They will bring knowledge, different viewpoints, youth, to our team,” Taylor said. “I plan on utilizing them when we talk about sponsors, about running the business. In this business there is new technology. … They’re in that environment. They’re out there, working every day, in their own businesses. They hear and see things that will be helpful to our organization.”
The addition of Jiang — the first Chinese citizen to own a part of an NBA franchise — is particularly intriguing. He may be able to help the Wolves get a foot in the door with China’s burgeoning interest in sports in general and the NBA in particular.
Jiang has worked with NBA China in the past. And Taylor said Jiang could help facilitate the Wolves perhaps playing a preseason game in China.
“We expect to help Minnesota to have rapid growth in the Chinese market,” said Jiang, who founded the Shanghai-based marketing firm Double-Edge Sports and recently bought control of a soccer club based in Granada, Spain).
Jiang hasn’t wasted any time.
He has set up a United States-based branch of his marketing firm to serve as a conduit with the Wolves.
“Just yesterday afternoon we had a meeting with top management of the [Wolves] to discuss the urgent work we will do in the next few days,” Jiang said.
“Right now we have taken action already to help the Timberwolves develop in the Chinese market.
‘‘… It is perfect timing. We can use our experience to push the Timberwolves to become more popular in China, Asia, and even the world.”
Orbach, meanwhile, said the process of becoming a minority owner took nearly a year.
He and his wife had dinner with Taylor and his wife in Minnesota last summer.
“We really hit it off,” Orbach said. “When it came time to say goodbye, I put my hand out to shake his hand. And he grabbed me and gave me a hug and said, ‘Let’s be partners.’ ”
As for the future?
Taylor said neither Orbach nor Jiang was brought in with any understanding that one of them might eventually buy controlling interest in the team.
“It’s a possibility, but that hasn’t been what the discussions have been,” Taylor said. “They want to come in and learn the business, and participate and be really good partners.”