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Nets playing Russian roulette with their Jersey fans News New Jersey Nets

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News » Nets playing Russian roulette with their Jersey fans

Nets playing Russian roulette with their Jersey fans

Nets playing Russian roulette with their Jersey fans whatever that is -- back to his native country.

Mikhail Prokhorov is a mysterious billionaire who was once arrested in his French ski chalet under the suspicion of soliciting prostitution, later explaining after the charges were dropped that he just "likes beautiful people."

So what does it mean? Well, for starters, the Nets once again lead the league in crazy.

They also are a step closer to being formerly from New Jersey.

Bruce Ratner bought this franchise to make his real estate deal in Brooklyn a reality. Now, five years and countless millions in losses later, he has to sell the same team to make that happen.

He might not win many "Businessman of the Year" awards for how he handled this, especially considering there are others with ownership stakes involved beyond Ratner and Prokhorov and countless details to be worked out. But Ratner now has access to the one thing he needs the most: money. Financing part of an $800 million arena that nobody wants in Brooklyn is much easier than funding the whole thing.

There is still the Oct. 14 hearing with the New York Court of Appeals on the eminent domain lawsuit -- and a loss for Ratner, however unlikely, would kill the entire project. It would also kill his arrangement with Prokhorov, who also must be approved by the other NBA owners.

"Let's be clear on one thing," said Daniel Goldstein, the spokesman for an opposition group in Brooklyn that vows to keep fighting the project. "This is not Bill Gates."

But with NBA commissioner David Stern firmly on board, gushing in a statement about how this plays into his global vision for Basketball, approval for Prokhorov seems likely.

Stern might want to approach this marriage with more caution. Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. might not have made a good first impression by demanding in a press release that Daniel Stern investigate Prokhorov, but he made an exceptionally compelling point that if taxpayer money is being used on this project, someone needs to take a hard look at who's benefiting from it.

If no flags are raised, Ratner has a partner in this crime. For $200 million and an unspecified capital investment, Prokhorov gets 80 percent of an NBA team and 45 percent of the arena, and Ratner saves face and can get his Atlantic Yards empire built.

The end-of-year deadline still looms for those all-important tax-free bonds, and who knows if the team can get the details straight by then. But Prokhorov arrives like a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.

"This is bad news for New Jersey and bad news for people who have supported the team for all those years," said George Zoffinger, the former head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. "But they only care about the almighty dollar -- or, in this case, the almighty ruble."

How Prokhorov chooses to spend his rubles remains to be seen, or when the team might actually hold a press conference to introduce their new owner. But current management might want to avoid refinancing their home loans. Prokhorov is regarded as a hands-on owner, although it remains to be seen how that will translate over eight time zones.

If he cares even an iota about winning, he'll be an upgrade. No matter what happens with this project now, Ratner has chiseled his bespectacled mug on the Mount Rushmore of awful sports owners.

He never wanted a Basketball team; he just wanted his buildings. Even the reviled Art Modell, as he ripped the Browns from Cleveland, cared about winning football games.

Ratner never did, and Jersey fans should remember that before they put money in his pocket this season or next.

If you plan on plopping down your disposable income for the Nets , supporting the team that has taken the words "New Jersey" off its road uniforms and is giving away reversible jerseys that support opposing players, you're nearly as crazy as the franchise itself.

And now, the best bet for Newark, with an NBA locker room waiting in the Prudential Center, is to take its two Nets exhibition games this season and try to turn itself into a stopgap solution for the next two seasons with the hope that something -- Atlantic Yards, Prokhorov -- falls through.

"The chances of the Nets playing here are still very much in play," Newark Mayor Cory Booker insisted yesterday. "Long-term, it all depends on, can they get a hole in the ground for that arena in Brooklyn."

Ratner has the oddest ally in that pursuit now. Who could have imagined that the New Jersey Nets would someday become the Brooklyn Nyets?

Steve Politi appears regularly in The Star-Ledger. He may be reached at, or follow him at

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 25, 2009


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