Russia's Richest Man to Pave Nets Path to Brooklyn?

Proposed deal would all but guarantee long-awaited move

The Nets got a boost to their efforts to move to Brooklyn on Thursday when the Empire State Development Corp. gave their approval of the new plans for their arena. That amounted to a rubber stamp, but it keeps the pressure on to break ground before the end of the year so they can use tax-free bonds to finance construction.

That makes the timing of a Reuters report a bit suspicious. Reuters reports that Mikhail Prokhorov, the mining and banking billionaire who is currently Russia's richest man, is putting together a deal to issue $700 million in bonds to help the team build the arena. As part of the deal he'd also become an owner of the Nets, although how big a piece of the franchise he'd get is unknown.

The timing is curious, simply because everyone knows that the Nets have been losing money hand over fist for the last few years and that they'll almost certainly need outside investment in order to actually get the arena project off the ground. Prokhorov's name has come up before without any action, and it wouldn't be the first time that the name of one big financier was used to get other ones interested in beating him to what could wind up being a lucrative real estate deal with a basketball team thrown in for good measure. All Prokhorov's company spokesman would say is that he's considering an investment, which is probably true and isn't indicative of all that much.

The biggest reason to believe he might not be interested in a deal is that the NBA does a significant amount of vetting for investors in teams. Prokhorov, like all of Russia's oligarchs, has connections to government interests that he might not want to disclose to the likes of David Stern. Of course, Stern has seemed as desperate as Nets owner Bruce Ratner to get the team to Brooklyn so he might opt for a circumvented process if it helps get the arena built after long last.

If this does come to fruition, it could open up a whole new fanbase for the Nets. There's a sizable Russian population in Brooklyn and they may devote their allegiance to a team owned by a countryman over rooting for the Knicks. It could also open up a whole new line of concessions for basketball fans. Out with hot dogs, popcorn and beer, in with pelmeni, blini and vodka.

That might be the first reason to root for this arena deal to come to fruition. It's the most delicious, at any rate.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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