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Huang's slam dunk makes headlines in the US

BARELY a month ago, Huang Jianhua was relatively unknown outside business circles, just one of many entrepreneurs working to match money and business opportunities across the Pacific.

Now, he's shot into the sports headlines in the United States with a bid to buy a chunk of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.

Huang followed that with a deal enlisting the help of Major League Baseball in setting up a youth league in China.

The moves have positioned Huang as China's closest thing to a sports mogul, not that he embraces the title.

He prefers to be called a "patriotic businessman," smoothing relations with sports regulators on the Chinese mainland.

"Huang is a guy with real vision but also the ability to make it a reality," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd and Huang's partner in a number of ventures.

Despite the attention-getting moves, natty suits and designer glasses, Huang maintains a low profile.

He slipped out of a news conference announcing the baseball deal after briefly answering questions limited to that specific venture. Public relations handlers said no official biography was available.

Chinese media reports say Huang was born in 1964 into a well-connected family in the southern city of Guangzhou, and was a star badminton player before quitting to attend university.

Financial adviser

Having shown a flair for languages, he studied economics and finance at New York's Columbia University before working at the New York Stock Exchange, where, according to the newspaper Economic Observer, he dealt primarily with investors from Japan and the Chinese-speaking world.

He left the exchange in 1991 to work as a private financial adviser, building up a client list among mainland Chinese investors, the paper said.

Huang was quoted as saying that he recognized how sports helped him bond with his American classmates, prompting his entry to the industry.

His landmark deal with Cleveland would give the investor group he leads a 15 percent stake.

With the team valued at US$477 million last year by Forbes, that would amount to about US$72 million.

The multimillion dollar baseball deal involves a 10 year commitment.

While those investments do not put Huang in the same league as Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer or Chelsea's Roman Abramovich, they are remarkable because Chinese business groups are seldom known for investing in overseas sports teams.

Sports marketing has yet to take off in China, with domestic leagues having less market share than their overseas counterparts.

Huang entered the field cautiously, first partnering with Ganis to broker deals with the Houston Rockets and New York Yankees to market the teams to Chinese businesses.

For years, the National Basketball Association had been pushing for an international group to become involved in team ownership.

Huang put together an investment group, bringing in Adrian Cheng, whose family controls Hong Kong's New World Development real estate conglomerate.

Yao Ming

The NBA already has a huge fan base in Chinese mainland -- mostly because of Houston's Yao Ming. The same can't be said for baseball, despite its popularity in Japan, South Korea as well as Taiwan.

Although the Chinese mainland has a seven-team professional baseball league, few Chinese know much about the sport and games are rarely shown on television in the country.

"It's a work in progress and we're going step by step," said Lei Jun, chairman of the Chinese Baseball Association, whose professional duties also include overseeing the development of softball, hockey and handball.

Ganis says support from Major League Baseball will be crucial.

He said baseball can be sold successfully as a sport built on team play and organization rather than individualism.

"It's an excellent opportunity and I'm very confident in the future of Chinese baseball," Huang said.


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