A Russian oligarch in Bklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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And now, here’s your Brooklyn Nyets!

As this paper went to press, it was announced that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov will take over as majority owner of the NBA’s Nets team from Forest City Ratner as the franchise readies for their controversial move to the Atlantic/Flatbush avenues intersection in Brooklyn.

Prokhorov, an avid sportsman, and his company Onexim Group made their fortune primarily through gold, metals and mining in Russia.

Under the agreement, Onexim will invest $200 million and make certain contingent funding commitments to acquire 45 percent of the arena project and 80 percent of the NBA team, and the right to purchase up to 20 percent of 22-acre Atlantic Yards Development Company, which will develop the non-arena real estate.

“We are delighted to join in this exciting project and to participate in the landmark development of global sports in this entertainment arena in the heart of New York City,” said Prokhorov in a statement.

“I have a longstanding passion for basketball and pursuing interests that forward the development of the sport in Russia. I look forward to becoming a member of the NBA and working with Bruce [FCR president Bruce Ratner] and his talented team to bring the Nets to Brooklyn,” he added.

Ratner said in a statement that he was thrilled that smart global investors appreciate the exciting economic potential of Brooklyn.

“We are one step closer to achieving our goals of creating much-needed jobs and economic development for Brooklyn and the city,” he said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern said the sale will be great for Brooklyn and basketball.

“Interest in basketball and the NBA is growing rapidly on a global basis and we are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov’s commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of basketball in Russia,” Stern said in a statement.

Local reaction to the news was mixed.

Daniel Goldstein, spokesperson for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which has an upcoming court case against the use of eminent domain for the project, said the only reason Ratner would make this deal is because he is in dire financial trouble.

“If Ratner has to go overseas to get major funding for the arena, how on earth is he going to finance the rest of the project?” said Goldstein. “Eminent domain abuse and massive taxpayer subsidies to enrich a Russian oligarch and modernize the Russian basketball system — is that what Bloomberg, Paterson, Schumer and Markowitz are all about?”

Goldstein also noted that Prokhorov is probably under the sway of the Kremlin.

“Russians and Kremlin leadership should understand very clearly that with this deal Mr. Prokhorov is entering into one of the biggest real estate boondoggles in New York City’s history, and New York’s most controversial real estate deal in this decade,” he said.

But reaction from Brooklyn’s large former Soviet Union and Russian community mainly living in southern Brooklyn was positive.

“This is great news and for the [Russian-American] community it will be huge,” said community activist John Lisyanskiy, who also works in City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office.

Lisyanskiy said there are about 350,000 Russian-Americans living in Brooklyn and he has been trying for years to get them more involved in local affairs and the sale of the team to Prokhorov will bring out a lot of pride, which will ultimately get these new Americans more involved in local community life.

Lisyanskiy said while Prokhorov has been controversial in some of his dealings, he is also well known for Russian philanthropy.

Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny, who represents Brighton Beach and Coney Island, and is a Russian-American immigrant, said the sale will probably trigger a big explosion in the local Russian media resulting in more Russian-Americans going to Nets games.

“I think it’s also a testament to the economy becoming so global that a person on one side of globe can buy a team on the other side of the globe,” said Brook-Krasny. “I also hope that it will somehow positively affect Russian-American relations and New York Russian-American relations.”

The transaction is expected to close by the first quarter of next year upon certain conditions being fulfilled, including approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

It might also be stopped should opponents of the project succeed in their court efforts.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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