- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The New Jersey Nets' move to Brooklyn is at least two years away, but new owner Mikhail Prokhorov was apparently serious when he said at his introductory news conference in May that he thinks he can "turn Knicks fans into Nets fans."
Ramping up tensions between the teams with free agency looming, Prokhorov has purchased billboard space near Madison Square Garden that will display a massive image of the Russian billionaire and Nets minority owner Jay-Z, with completion scheduled just before the start of free agency.
The 222-by-95-foot billboard sporting a Nets logo will picture Jay-Z and Prokhorov side-by-side under the heading, "The Blueprint For Greatness." The signage is strategically placed, according to sources with knowledge of the project, within the sight line of the Knicks' offices at the corner of 34th and 8th.
The Nets and Knicks, starting Thursday at 12:01 a.m., will be competing head-to-head for elite names as two of the NBA's four teams armed with the salary-cap space to sign two marquee free agents, along with Miami and Chicago.
New Jersey and New York are the first two teams scheduled to meet Thursday in Ohio with 2010 face of free agency LeBron James and are also scheduled to have separate sitdowns Friday in Manhattan with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"That billboard is the anchor to an aggressive marketing platform for key transit hubs from Manhattan to Newark," Nets CEO Brett Yormark told the Bergen Record.
"It's a pretty aggressive campaign around free agency. It's one of the biggest advertising spaces in the city. What better place to make a statement."
The brazen move only figures to add fuel to a rising debate about which team -- New Jersey or New York -- has the better shot at securing James' signature.
Competition for the two-time reigning MVP is fierce, with Miami and Chicago making strong pitches as well and James' hometown Cavs desperately trying to keep him. But sources close to the process continue to describe the Nets' ownership tag team of Prokhorov and Jay-Z -- who ranks as one of James' mentors and role models -- as a bigger threat to steal James away from Cleveland than James Dolan's Knicks, despite the fact that the Nets are scheduled to spend the next two seasons in unfashionable Newark before making the move to Brooklyn.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
The Nets are putting up billboards in plain view of the Knicks' offices at Madison Square Garden.