The New York Liberty open their WNBA preseason Thursday in Brooklyn against the visiting Chinese women's national team. ESPN.com spoke to Joseph Tsai, the Brooklyn Nets minority owner who purchased the Liberty in January, about his high hopes for the WNBA debut of Han Xu and his passion for women's sports.
Below is a Q&A of the interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you get involved in women's professional basketball and decide to purchase the Liberty?
Well, once you are involved in the men's team (the Brooklyn Nets), it's pretty natural to think about, "Well, should we get involved with the New York team on the women's side of things?" Fortunately, the Liberty were available for sale and we sort of jumped at the opportunity. For me, it's kind of personal. I have a daughter that plays sports throughout high school. She's playing varsity lacrosse in college. So any father that have daughters can understand this. I really want to support women's sports because I think young girls need role models to look up to. I've mentioned before that sports really develop people's leadership skills so that we need to have more women leaders in this world. So for me, it's beyond sports. It's leadership. I think they are the role models for young girls. That's why I support women in sports.
What does hosting a game against the Chinese national team mean to you?
I think this is a very meaningful time in the whole relationship between China and the United States, so it's quite opportune for us to be able to invite the Chinese women's national team and to come play the Liberty. For me, it's an honor to host a team from China, and also this is the first time for me to watch the Liberty play since I came into the ownership of the team.
How do you see Han Xu being an impact in the WNBA and in the Liberty organization?
As you can see, she is a tall player (6-foot-9). But she could also really dominate underneath the basket. She is not afraid of physicality and can also shoot. She's a very versatile player. So just her pure skill sets. She's going to catch a lot of attention and hopefully delight the fans, so I'm very excited to actually watch her play.
How did Han get on the Liberty's radar and what was the pre-draft process like in getting her?
Our GM, Jonathan Kolb, worked for the WNBA league office, and Han was part of the NBA China junior academy, so she's already been on the WNBA radar. She did very well last year in the FIFA World Cup game against the United States, where she dropped 20 points, and it was the highest score on the team. So you know she's always been on the radar. When they told me about her and also the possibility that we'd be able to draft her maybe in one of the top picks, I said absolutely we should try as much as we can to bring her on board if we're lucky enough to be able to pick her. And fortunately, we were very lucky.
What is the team doing to accelerate her onboarding process?
Since Han came over here, we have put her up in an apartment here in Brooklyn. I asked her yesterday, "Do you have a roommate?" She said, "Well, I don't have a roommate, but I do have a neighbor." Asia Durr, our first-round draft pick, is her neighbor staying in the apartment next door. So I think she has company and will get a whole support of not just the players, but also the entire coaching staff as well as our performance staff. I think she'll be well taken care of.
What does Han need to improve on currently?
I see a little bit of a parallel with myself. I came over from Taiwan to the United States when I was 13, so the first things for me to get used to is the culture and also the language. I think learning English is very important because that's how you communicate. That's how you express yourself and that's how you build up the camaraderie with your schoolmates or teammates. For her, my advice to her is to get immersed into the culture here, learn the language as much as possible and as quickly as possible. I don't think she'll have a problem. I met her yesterday. She's very outgoing. She has that radiant personality. I think she's going to be fine.
How can Chinese women's basketball benefit from having more athletes like Han competing in the WNBA?
The WNBA is playing at the highest-caliber level worldwide, and some of the best players in the world play in this league. So it's always good to have this exchange to have a Chinese basketball [player] come over here and experience the rigor of the program here. Then they can take that experience back to their teams and hopefully contribute to the Chinese basketball scene.