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Communist Quietly Comes to Cleveland

A look at the recent discussions concerning Hong Kong businessman Albert Hung, who is now purchasing a stake in the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

I dug through the news reports from Ohio to China, trudging through the same list of accolades and accomplishments of Albert Hung, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Hong Kong, who is finalizing a deal to buy a 15 percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Then I waited for the negative backlash.

There was none.

The NBA in China blog did a writeup of Hung, stating “Hung is a member of numerous powerful groups and committees including: the Standing Committee of National Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Vice President of China Sports Foundation, Vice Chairman of Major Sports Events Committee, the President of All Stars Sports Association Ltd. of Hong Kong, and Vice President and Director of the South China Athletic Association.”

I was waiting for the harsh comments concerning a Chinese Communist Party member getting his hands on an American basketball team. He’s a member of the CPPCC, which is now a sort of advisory group to the National People’s Congress, and has been chaired by the likes of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Li Xiannian.

The NBA in China blog went even further: “Perhaps his most valuable political affiliation is with the Hong Kong Selection Committee, which is the group that elects the chief executive of the massive Asian commerce and cultural hub.” Judging by previous news reports, the Hong Kong Selection Committee — chosen by the Chinese government — was somewhat unpopular when it was charged with selecting the first leader of Hong Kong’s provisional government as well as its other legislatures, after the citizens in Hong Kong had already selected a group in a free election. No one batted an eye.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper, reported much of the same information as the NBA China blog report. I was waiting for Hung to face the same gauntlet radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh got hit by when he was stonewalled from purchasing the St. Louis Rams. Nothing.

It was reported Tsingtao beer signed a multi-year partnership with the Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena. Ohio is the fourth largest producer of beer in the United States, and the third largest consumer, according to statistics. Pabst Brewing Company, one of the oldest beer companies in the United States, is now produced in Ohio. Annheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, and Miller Brewing both have production plants in the state. No resident in Ohio has bothered to question a Chinese beer company setting up shop inside the Cavs’ arena.

My speculation that negative commentary would be the result of both a 15 percent purchase by a Chinese businessman and a Chinese beer company coming to town was from some of the more negative headlines concerning the People’s Republic in 2009. Australia steel giant Rio Tinto backed off a deal for Aluminum Corp. of China to purchase a 18 percent stake in June, according to the Wall Street Journal, and mixed in with the deal’s rejection was concern that the Chinese government was getting too close to a national industry in Australia — a similar sentiment made by United States politicians four years ago when the Chinese made an attempt to purchase a U.S. oil company. The rioting in Xinjiang that took place in July brought a second major protest in China over a span of two years to the front lines of major newspapers and television stations, the result has been 22 people sentenced to death since the rioting stopped.  The Guardian reported that China showed some ire in September after threatening to boycott the Frankfurt Book Fair — where China was the guest of honor at this year’s event — unless two authors, which the Chinese government deemed dissidents, were removed from the list of participants. Most recently, the Guardian blasted China for what it called “hijacking” the Copenhagen climate meetings, stating the PRC wrecked any attempt at making a real deal at the summit.

That’s a long paragraph that has little to do with sports. But from all this, I was expecting the worst when I read that Hung would be purchasing a stake in the Cavs. There was nothing. There wasn’t much praise either. Only a few ripples within the news. But I have yet to read any negative commentary with regard to Hung and his business dealings.

The silence around Hung’s recent move and the deal to be finalized come the start of 2010 should be taken as a good sign for the NBA, which has seen its stock in the Chinese market steadily rise over the years, particularly since the league brought pre-season games over to the Mainland. Then again, Hung, and partner Kenny Huang — who was the original man selected to invest in the Cavs — might just be the future to bringing more of America’s sports to China.

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