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Billionaire nears deal to buy Nets Russian's move to gain stake in team may spur move to N.Y. News New Jersey Nets
 

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News » Billionaire nears deal to buy Nets Russian's move to gain stake in team may spur move to N.Y.


Billionaire nears deal to buy Nets Russian's move to gain stake in team may spur move to N.Y.


Billionaire nears deal to buy Nets Russian's move to gain stake in team may spur move to N.Y. The New Jersey Nets appeared closer than ever to a move to Brooklyn yesterday after Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov agreed to purchase 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of a proposed arena by pouring $200 million into the cash-depleted venture spearheaded by Nets principal owner Bruce Ratner.

Under the agreement, Ratner's Forest City Enterprises group will retain controlling interest in the proposed Barclays Center in Brooklyn but relinquish authority over Basketball operations. It also will give Prokhorov's Onexim Group the right to purchase up to 20 percent of the Atlantic Yards Development Company, which will develop the area around the proposed $800 million arena.

The deal is contingent upon the National Basketball Association's approval of Prokhorov and the Nets' move to Brooklyn, which still faces two major obstacles: an Oct. 14 hearing in the New York State Court of Appeals regarding eminent domain issues, and a December deadline to break ground or lose access to financing from tax-free bonds.

If the deal is approved, it will result in the first majority owner in NBA history to not be a native of the U.S. or Canada.

"For years we've dreamed of globalizing this franchise, and we're going to get there," Nets CEO Brett Yormark said last night. "We're marketed heavily in China now, we have Barclays' connection to Europe, and now you have this established person from Russia who brings tons of resources and knowledge of Basketball, a passion and a commitment.

"All that creates a great environment where chasing championships will be the norm," Yormark said. "I think our New Jersey fans will be excited about it, and it will carry over into Brooklyn."

Prokhorov, Russia's richest man, is a 44-year-old industrialist who is worth an estimated $9.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He began to amass his fortune in 1993 when he acquired Noriksk Nickel, an inefficient metals operation in Siberia that he transformed into an industrial giant.

But at 6-feet 7-inches tall, his real love is Basketball, and he had helped turn CSKA Moscow into a European League powerhouse.

"We are delighted to join in this exciting project and to participate in the landmark development of global sports in this entertainment arena in the heart of New York City," Prokhorov said in a statement issued with Ratner yesterday. "I have a long-standing passion for Basketball and pursuing interests that forward the development of the sport in Russia."

The ownership transfer "is contingent on the move" to Brooklyn, Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco reiterated in an e-mail yesterday, So if the Atlantic Yards project is forestalled or abolished, Forest City retains controlling partnership of the Nets .

The NBA Board of Governors must also approve the transaction, but Commissioner David Stern gave it his personal blessing yesterday.

"Interest in Basketball and the NBA is growing rapidly on a global basis, and we are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov's commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of Basketball in Russia," Stern said.

Indeed, Prokhorov's commitment to the development of Basketball in Russia was stated clearly in a blog entry he wrote Tuesday, the day he first publicly announced his interest. And his remarks about how he aims to increase the "placement of Russia's leading coaches and managers in the NBA" may not bode well for existing management.

Nets President Rod Thorn and General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe are in the final years of their contracts, and while the two executives have put the team in a good position to rebuild quickly next summer by creating salary cap space -- especially if the owner has Prokhorov's reputation for free spending -- new owners often like to bring in their own managers.

Thorn said he has not met Prokhorov, but did not indicate a sense of urgency to discuss his future with the new owner.

"I've been around a long time, and I've been through ownership changes before," the 68-year-old Thorn said. "What transpires will transpire. I'll keep doing my job as long as I'm in this particular position, and whatever happens happens."

Coach Lawrence Frank is in the final year of his contract, and Prokhorov is said to be enamored of some European coaches, notably Evgeny Pashutin, the current coach of CSKA Moscow, and Ettore Messina, an Italian who used to coach the same team.

But Prokhorov's greatest impact pertains to his deep pockets; after years of budget restrictions because of annual losses of $30 million or more, Ratner had tightened the spigot.

"The fans should be very excited by this," Yormark said. "They know we're going to Brooklyn, they know we have the money, and they know we have the global cachet. All those three things working together will make this magical."

Dave D'Alessandro may be reached at ddalesssandro@starledger.com


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 25, 2009

 

 
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