EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The crowd was so sparse, the building so empty, fans sitting on one side of the Izod Center for last Wednesday night’s game between New Jersey and the Jazz could shout across the arena and communicate with New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who was sitting in a front-row seat on the other side.
Yet Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov wants to buy the Nets anyway.
On the day the Jazz were in Jersey, Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holdings and the development company that currently owns the Nets completed an agreement to create a partnership for owning the team and developing its Atlantic Yards project — including a new arena, apartments and office towers — in Brookyln.
Prokhorov will get 80 percent of the Nets, 45 percent of a new Nets arena and 20 percent of the development project, and he’s reportedly agreed to finance up to $60 million of the Nets’ losses until they move into their new arena in 2012 and assume 80 percent of the team’s $207 million in debt.
The New York Times reported Thursday that Russia richest man “has survived the NBA’s background examination,” but still must be approved by 23 of 30 ownership reps on the NBA’s Board of Governors sometime in January or February.
What’s all this have to do with the Jazz?
Well, Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko doesn’t claim to a close friend of Prokhorov’s — but he does know him well enough to have dined with the man back home in Russia, where Prokhorov owned Kirilenko’s old CSKA Moscow team.
Nets reporters peppered Kirilenko with questions about Prokhorov before Wednesday’s game.
Some of what Kirilenko — the NBA’s only player from Russia — had to say:
Question: Will he be afraid to spend?
Answer: “I don’t think he will be afraid to spend, but I think his main issue will be building a team, rather than just, you know, throwing the money out. Again, I don’t think (spending) is going to be an issue for him — but he’s always been known to create a great business rather than just get something and get a quick result. I think if he’s coming it will be for a long time.”
Question: What kind of guy is he? Like (Dallas owner) Mark Cuban?
Answer: “He’s probably kind of mixed. Because he’s not really a guy who hangs out with the players, like Mark Cuban. He’s not really involved in the process of ruling the team, because I think he kind of puts it on the coach’s shoulder and the GM’s. But outside the court, if you go somewhere, he might take a few players and hang out with them. But it’s not that he’s gonna be in the lockerroom and tell them what to do.”
Question: Is it true he really wants to win?
Answer: “He’s a very successful businessman and competitor. In everything he touch, he wants to be successful. I think it’s a good thing for an owner of an NBA team.”
Question: If he a George Steinbrenner-type of owner?
Answer: “You know, I don’t know of George Steinbrenner.”
Question: Steinbrenner has a reputation that he would spend anything to win.
Answer: “I don’t think he’s a guy who wants to spend everything. He’s ready to spend. I don’t think that’s an issue. But I think he want make sure he’s gonna get a result.”
Question: With him in New Jersey, would it become a more desirable place to play?
Answer: “Definitely, definitely. I think he can really turn around the team. It’s not that he’s gonna get a team and they’re gonna play ‘a little bit better.’ They’re definitely gonna play better — because (the Nets) aren’t playing good this year. But I think he’s really looking to bring the team to the top, and I’m really happy for the New Jersey fans, because with him owning this team, he’s really going to think about the future of the team.”