The NBA Will Never, Ever Let the Nets Move Their Business to Russia

What is happening in Brooklyn with the ownership of the National Basketball Association Nets? Last week, Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov told the Reuters:  news agency, “A Russian company will own the basketball club. This does not violate any NBA rules and I will bring it in accordance with Russian law.”

But Prokhorov apparently has not told the National Basketball Association of his plans.

“The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov through a U.S.-based company,” league spokesman Mike Bass said in an e–mail sent to reporters last week. “We have received no application nor is there a process underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to another company.”

The timing of Prokhorov’s remarks is somewhat suspicious as it came after President Barack Obama announced the United States and the European Union had imposed visa bans and asset freezes on officials and businessmen believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a protest over Russia’s annexation of Crimea which was part of Ukrainian territory.

Prokhorov is not on any sanction list but he is a Russian politician who ran against Putin in the 2012 Presidential election. He also had plans to run for mayor of Moscow but shelved those aspirations because of a Russia law which that barred Russians who had foreign assets from running for any office in the country. Prokhorov told reporters who didn’t think the sanctions would hurt his business.

Prokhorov became the then-New Jersey Nets majority owner in 2010 and provided funding that helped Bruce Ratner finish the Brooklyn arena that presently houses the basketball team and will become the home of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders in 2015. The Prokhorov investments are controlled by Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holdings USA, Inc., a Delaware based corporation. It is thought that Prokhorov owns 80 percent of the basketball team and 45 percent of the Brooklyn arena. It took eight months for the NBA to approve Prokhorov’s application to buy into the Nets.

The NBA would have to approve Prokhorov’s request to relocate the company to Moscow.

It was business as usual in Brooklyn after the story leaked as arena officials agreed to deals with the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Atlantic 10 college sports groups to hold the two entities season ending basketball tournaments. The ACC will play games in Brooklyn in 2017 and 2018, the Atlantic 10 will hold the conference’s annual tournament in the Brooklyn building in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The two conferences will select teams to play in Brooklyn games against each other in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The Islanders will play a pre-season hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in September.  The arena also hired a Chicago-based sports consult company to transition Islanders marketing from Long Island to Brooklyn and integrating the franchise into New York City while mindful of the Islanders present fan base in Nassau and Suffolk County in the suburbs.

The Islanders owner Charkes Wang is reportedly in talks to sell a large chunk of the team.

The Brooklyn arena was the highest grossing building in terms of revenue in 2013.

The Nets franchise is not going to go to Moscow.

Prokhorov’s announcement of moving business operations first came to light in June, 2013 but seemingly was forgotten until Monday. Onexim Sports and Entertainment President Irina Pavlova said that the whole story is “has been a tempest in a teacup.” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also said, ”I have no idea.”

It is unclear just what the relocation of the business will mean to the Nets, the NBA and the New York Islanders as the Nets/arena entity is handling Islanders marketing in preparation for the franchise relocation in 2015. New York politicians, some of whom helped securing tax breaks, incentives and property to construct the building have said nothing about the possibility the Nets could become a Moscow- based business.

Prokhorov is not the only Russian with a major stake in global sports. Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea in the English Premiership. According to the London newspaper, The Telegraph, Prime Minister David Cameron said “‘I won’t rule out sanctions against Roman Abramovich.”

The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the group’s Lausanne, Switzerland headquarters as a follow up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The IOC has received criticism from some quarters over the invitation following the Russian takeover of the Crimea region but the IOC has defended the invitation claiming that it is “protocol” that follows the completion of any Olympics. So far, the IOC is waiting for a response from Putin.

The 2014 Sochi Games, according to the IOC, were meant to bring people together. Russia took over Crimea shortly after the completion of the 2014 Games.

There are four Russian players in the National Basketball Association at the present time. The National Hockey League and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation have had a rocky relationship for years. As the United States, the European Union and Russia harden their positions, there may be fewer players from Russia who join North American teams and  fewer Americans and Canadians who might sign up to play in Russia. The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League has expansion plans and will play in at least eight countries next year – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Finland and Russia. But Ukraine may not be welcomed in a Russian based league.

Back to Prokhorov, it is unknown what NBA owners will do when asked about the Nets’ business headquarters transfer from New York City to Moscow. They could have their decision made by people in the Oval Office and at the Kremlin.

Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected]. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, ( ), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA ( ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition ( ) are available from e-book distributors globally. 2014 e-book, sports business 2010-14( ). The e-books are available from e-book distributors globally.