Contract is pending approval Friday

Updated: January 22, 2004, 3:11 AM ET
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- The New Jersey Nets' owners have agreed to sell the team to a New York City real estate developer, a move that could bring Brooklyn its first major sports franchise since 1957.

More hurdles ahead
The Nets are a step closer to landing in Brooklyn, but there is still a very long way to go before that happens. For $300 million, Bruce Ratner now has the right to move them there if he pleases since the New York Knicks do not own any territorial rights.

But Ratner faces plenty of obstacles if he wants to erase the New Jersey from the Nets. The building of a massive $2.5 billion complex -- which includes the arena -- involves destroying houses. That won't make Ratner an immediate favorite in some parts of town. Also up in the air: the amount of taxpayer dollars Ratner will receive for the project.

A winning Nets team would be a better draw in Brooklyn than in their current home in Secaucus, N.J., due to a more accessible public transportation system. After all, if the Nets don't pick up their performance on the court, they could be staring at their third season of under 14,000 fans per game over the last four years.

It's tough to argue that there's any real future for the Nets in New Jersey. Ratner undoubtedly will delegate plenty of people to help him run the team, but some NBA owners are still likely to question his priorities -- which in this case seem to be real estate project first, team second.

-- Darren Rovell

The contract was finalized Wednesday, said Edwin Stier, president of the Community Youth Organization, which owns the Nets.

The developer, Bruce Ratner, wants to move the Nets to a new arena that would be at the center of a proposed $2.5 billion office, residential and shopping complex in Brooklyn. But the deal must first be approved by the board of YankeeNets, the holding company of the Nets and New York Yankees, which planned to meet Friday.

"I'm very pleased that the process worked and was very successful, and I'm very glad it's over. It was a very intense process of negotiation," Stier said.

Ratner's bid beat out an offer from a group led by real estate developer Charles Kushner and New Jersey Sen. Jon S. Corzine, who sought to keep the team in New Jersey. Corzine and Ratner declined comment Wednesday night; attempts to reach Kushner through his office were unsuccessful. Ratner's bid was reportedly $300 million. Stier wouldn't comment on the amount.

Stier said he informed Kushner of the board's decision late Wednesday.

"He told me he appreciated the way the process was run," Stier said. "All the parties who participated expressed that to me."

George Zoffinger, president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the Meadowlands complex where the Nets play, said the team's owner "basically stabbed the people of New Jersey in the back."

Ratner's proposed Brooklyn Arena and Brooklyn Atlantic Yards would combine residential, retail and commercial space totaling 7.7 million square feet. The entire development is expected to take 10 years.

Under the plan, work on the arena would begin next year and finish in time for the 2006 NBA season. The arena would seat 19,000 for basketball, and include 4,500 units of residential housing and 2.1 million square feet of commercial office space.

Some Brooklyn residents have charged that the project would displace close to 1,000 people.

"I'm very disappointed," said city councilwoman Letitia James, whose district includes the area where the arena would be located. "It's a great day for rich developers and a sad day for working families."

The borough has not had a major sports franchise since baseball's Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957.

The Nets were in San Antonio on Wednesday night, where they lost to the Spurs 99-76.

When asked after the game about the possible move, Jason Kidd replied: "When do we move? I'll probably be retired. That's nice so you guys don't have to ask us anymore."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press