$253 million invested into sports unit

Disney, plutocrat Li Ka-shing and three Chinese financiers have invested $253 million in NBA China, a new sports rights body that aims to harness the huge popularity of basketball in the country.

The cash buys them 11% of NBA China and puts an initial value of $2.3 billion on the org. Disney is buying 5%, while Li’s charity Li Ka-shing Foundation, Bank of China, China Merchants Bank and Legend Holdings, parent of computer giant Lenovo, split the remaining 6%.

NBA China was founded in May, and former Microsoft China boss Timothy Chen Yongzheng became CEO in the fall.

“We are delighted to be participating in this promising venture in what’s become one of the Walt Disney Co.’s most important markets,” Mouse House topper Bob Iger said in a statement. “This investment adds to our wide range of exciting businesses in China.” Increasing basketball’s popularity in China have been NBA players Yao Ming and Wang Zhizhi, who play for the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, respectively.

NBA China will have the right to create teams in China and will own all broadcasting rights and merchandising. Unusually in China, it will retain some ownership in teams created in the country.

Next month’s Chinese New Year celebrations will see the launch of “Kung Fu Dunk,” a basketball-cum-martial arts movie. Pic, long on special effects and starring pop star Jay Chou, is set to be one of the biggest Chinese-language movies of the year.

Li, who owns stakes in media groups including Tom.com and Golden Harvest, last month paid $60 million for a slice of social networking website Facebook.

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