Sale of Nets moves a step closer

Updated: December 16, 2009, 7:07 PM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A Russian billionaire has moved a step closer to becoming the NBA's first non-North American owner.

Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holdings and the company that owns the New Jersey Nets announced on Wednesday that they had completed their agreement to create a partnership that would own the NBA team and develop the Atlantic Yards project in New York City.

The agreement provides for the sale of 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of a new Nets arena to Prokhorov's Onexim, subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors.

It also includes an option for Prokhorov to acquire up to 20 percent of Atlantic Yards, which would surround the new Barclays Center arena with apartments and office towers on 22 acres in Brooklyn.

Forest City Ratner Cos., which is led by Nets majority owner Bruce Ratner, and Nets Sports and Entertainment signed a letter of intent with Prokhorov on Sept. 23.

Wednesday's announcement came one day after Forest City Ratner announced that $511 million in tax-free bonds for the Barclays Center had been sold. Project opponents had hoped the bond sale would fall flat and end the project.

Ratner plans to have a master closing on the Barclays Center next week.

Construction crews have been cleaning up the site and tearing down buildings on the Brooklyn site since the summer. A date has not been set for a groundbreaking on the new arena.

"I am looking forward to working with Bruce and his team to bring a world-class entertainment and sports center to the heart of New York City," Prokhorov said in a statement. "Brooklyn is an exceptionally attractive market for a new arena and the Barclays Center will provide a fantastic home for the Nets."

Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who played for Prokhorov's CSKA Moscow before joining the NBA, expects his countryman to make the Nets into a contender.

"He is going to be a great owner," Kirilenko said Wednesday before Jazz played the Nets. "He is a guy who has a passion for basketball and he's a successful businessman. Everything he touches turns into a very successful project and I hope New Jersey will be the same."

Kirilenko said that Prokhorovo will not only throw money into making the Nets a winner, he will make the franchise financially successful.

"Not a lot of players want to go to New Jersey now because of all the situation, losing, not having a good base," Kirilenko said. "He will start from scratch and build everything and make it desirable for people to be here and make it desirable for the fans."

The cash-strapped Ratner had been searching for a major investor for more than a year.

"We're delighted that we have finalized our agreement with Mikhail and Onexim," he said. "We're excited about the new partnership and moving forward with the Barclays Center and the Atlantic Yards project."

The NBA Board of Governors is expected to rule on the sale and relocation by early next year.

Ratner and his development company hope to finish the arena by 2011. They eventually plan to add apartment towers and office buildings.

Also on Wednesday, a deal that would have allowed the Nets to move from the Izod Center and play their games at the Prudential Center in Newark until the arena in Brooklyn is built all but collapsed, two New Jersey newspapers reported.

The Star-Ledger reported that Jerold L. Zaro, who had been working to broker the deal on behalf of outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine's administration, said it will be up Gov.-elect Chris Christie to broker a deal.

Under its current lease with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the Nets would have to pay a $7.5 million penalty if they break their lease and play in another arena.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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