Like their peers elsewhere in the world, Indonesia’s wealthy aren’t content to limit their conspicuous consumption to yachts, cars, property and other commodities.
Some, like media mogul Erick Thohir, are drawn to the sports world and want to make their mark in Indonesia and abroad.
Erick and fellow investor Handy Poernomo Soetedjo made history on Wednesday when they became the first Asians to own an NBA franchise. The pair was part of a consortium that took over the Philadelphia 76ers from Comcast-Spectacor Group.
While Erick is best-known as the owner of Mahaka Media Group and the president director of Visi Media Asia, he is just as active in the sporting arena. He is a co-owner of National Basketball League club Satria Muda Britama and Asean Basketball League franchise the Indonesia Warriors.
In addition to serving a stint as chairman of the Indonesian Basketball Association (Perbasi), he is the president of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association.
“I love basketball. As a start, I joined Satria Muda in 1999 and now the club has six championships. Then there was good opportunity to be part of the Asean Basketball League and we joined. But I never dreamed I’d own an NBA club,” the 41-year-old said.
Erick and Handy’s venture into the world’s top basketball league saw them follow in the footsteps of the Bakrie family, which this month bought a 70 percent stake in the Brisbane Roar in Australia’s A-League.
Handy also co-owns Satria Muda and Indonesia Warriors. He is the director of Armadian Tritunggal, the majority shareholder of Berau Coal Energy.
Erick’s path to the NBA began when he attended the 2011 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. A day before flying home, he received a call from a friend who asked him to meet Jason Levine.
“I asked, ‘Who is Jason Levine?’ It turned out he was a former NBA agent and executive with the Sacramento Kings,” Erick said. “When I met him, he asked if I’d ever thought of being an NBA club owner. I said no. Levine said there was a good NBA team available and he was looking for an Asian figure with a good record in business and basketball.”
Levine laid out the details in a March meeting with Erick in Jakarta. After a series of meetings in Jakarta, Singapore and New York with Levine and eventual managing owner Joshua Harris, Erick joined the consortium.
“We had to wait for NBA approval. You won’t be approved if you have legal cases, bankruptcies or are involved in gambling. I got the official notification a week prior to the press conference. It’s incredible,” he said.
While the deal will likely not immediately impact Indonesian basketball, Erick said it would open more opportunities for local players in the future. As a start, he said he planned to give Under-16 national team player Vincent Kosasih a scholarship to study in the United States.
“This will give our players a better chance to play in the United States. I want to see Indonesians playing basketball in Division 1 of the NCAA. There’s an opportunity and the young players have to make the best of it,” he said.