Russian Oligarch Will Save Nets to Save Russian Basketball

Lack of financing for Brooklyn arena makes strange bedfellows

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009  |  Updated 1:42 PM CDT
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Russian Oligarch Will Save Nets to Save Russian Basketball

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When news of Mikhail Prokhorov's potential interest in the Nets came up last week, we mused that the richest man in Russia's name might have been floated as a way to spur other investors. That turned out not to be the case, as the oligarch took to his blog on Tuesday and let the world know that he was weighing a deal that would both finance the Nets' arena in Brooklyn and give him a controlling interest in the team.

One major difference you find out right away is that while every American with a pulse shares every last thought they have via Twitter, the richest man in Russia is still kicking it on a LiveJournal blog. It gets weirder, though.

That would make him the first non-North American owner of an NBA team, something that wouldn't seem like such a big deal until you read Prokhorov's statement about his interest. It's partly a real estate deal, partly a sports deal and a whole lot of a nationalist attempt to use entry into the NBA as a way to make Russia a more powerful basketball nation. According to Prokhorov, the "qualitative conditions" of the deal are:

  • Russia would achieve a position of equality among the elites of world basketball
  • access to all modern technology and training methods with the possibility of using them in Russia
  • apprenticeships for leading Russian trainers and managers in the NBA
  • the ability to send our best students to NBA training camps.

In post-Soviet Russia, the Nets buy you!

It sounds utterly ridiculous, but the Nets are so desperate for financing that anything is possible. The big loser in this deal would clearly be Bruce Ratner, who would essentially have to give away control of his team and his real estate dream project in order to save both of them. It would be almost Shakespearean, except that it's the Nets and a widely reviled arena project and a crazy Russian billionaire whose plan hinges on the idea that access to the Nets would somehow be a benefit to basketball in Moscow.

So not Shakespeare so much as Monty Python, then.

UPDATE: As they say in Russian, dosvidonedeal*. On Wednesday afternoon, the Nets and Prokhorov announced that they've reached a deal that will make Prokhorov the majority owner of the team. He'll own 80 percent of the Nets, 45 percent of the arena and 20 percent of the non-arena development of the Atlantic Yards area. He'll invest $200 million and make other "funding committments" for those stakes.

The NBA still needs to approve the deal. There may be some owners dubious about sharing their league with a man who has Prokhorov's billions to draw on, but David Stern issued a statement supporting the deal Wednesday, and the league has made it clear that they want the Nets in Brooklyn so those doubts may not materialize in the form of dissenting votes.

(*=not actually said in Russian.)

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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