Prokhorov's Involvement Raises Important Question for Nets Arena Deal

Should foreign billionaires get subsidies from taxpayers?

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Sep 24, 2009  |  Updated 8:45 AM EDT
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Prokhorov's Involvement Raises Important Question for Nets Arena Deal

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When the news about Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov buying the Nets broke on Wednesday, it was hard not to focus on one particular part of the deal. It was the Bond villain part of the deal. Prokhorov's stated desire to revolutionize Russian basketball by gaining access to the NBA through the Nets was different and certainly eye-catching.

With that out of the way, though, another part of the deal has caught attention because it relates to the Nets long-desired move to Brooklyn. On October 14th, the New York State Court of Appeals is going to hear a challenge to a lower court's ruling that the state could use eminent domain to seize land for use by a private developer. Because that case has to do with the state government, the ruling might not be impacted at all by Prokhorov's involvement but we wonder if there aren't some city and state officials kicking themselves about using eminent domain to line the pockets of Russia's richest man.

Foreign investment is nothing new and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. The idea of public financing being used for the benefit of a guy who could finance the entire deal for less than he spends on caviar in a month doesn't sit quite so well, however. It's hard to imagine that so many different elected officials would have been on board with this deal if Prokhorov had been involved from day one. 

This project was initially and continually pitched as being about Brooklyn and for Brooklyn. That claim was met with skepticism in a lot of quarters before, but now it can only be met with laughter. Those elected officials mentioned above can't be happy about the way Bruce Ratner continually misled them and the public about his ability to get the deal done on his own now that they're left financing a building to be used for the betterment of Russia's basketball future. If any of them are angry enough, there could be new hurdles thrown in the way of the deal's completion.

Many of the horses have already left the barn, however, and if the deal does go forward the only approvals Prokhorov, Ratner and the Nets need will come from the NBA and the Treasury Department. The NBA should be a rubber stamp as the addition of a Russian owner fits there desire for globalizing the brand, but a decision from Treasury could concievably be affected by a large enough outcry against the deal.

That may be a longshot, but it would be nice to hear some of the arena project's government supporters weigh in with their thoughts all the same.

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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