Billionaire buys Nets and Barclays Center in record-breaking sale

Brooklyn to host New York’s only pro women’s basketball team
Barclays Center.
Photo by Paul Martinka

A billionaire entrepreneur has agreed to purchase a controlling stake in Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets for a record-breaking $2.35 billion, according to the Associated Press.

Joseph Tsai, the co-founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, finalized the deal to acquire the arena and the remaining 51 percent of the NBA team for the enormous lump sum on Aug. 16. The sale now makes Tsai — who had previously owned 49 percent of the team — the sole investor in both entities.

Tsai will pay $1.35 billion for the remainder of the Nets, after purchasing his minority stake in 2018 for $1 billion. The two purchases combine to value the Nets at $2.35 billion — the highest sale price ever for an American professional sports franchise, the AP reports.

The businessman, who boasts an estimated net worth of just under $10 billion, will also acquire the 19,000-seat arena in a separate transaction for almost $1 billion, according to the AP.

Tsai put out on statement on Aug. 16 confirming the sale, but not the purchase price, saying he hopes to continue Barclays Center’s status as a hub for entertainment in Brooklyn.

“We are committed to maintaining Barclays Center’s iconic status by bringing together culture, community, and entertainment for our fans and everyone in New York,” said the businessman.

The deal provides a massive windfall for outgoing Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who first purchased 80 percent of the then-New Jersey Nets, and 45 percent of the development project that would later become Barclays Center for $223 million in 2010. After the team moved across the Hudson River and took roots in Brooklyn, Prokhorov purchased the remainder of both the team and the arena in 2015 for almost $400 million — bringing Prokhorov’s total purchase to nearly $623 million, according to a Yahoo report at the time.

Barclays’ billion-dollar price tag follows the arena’s controversial development, which was plagued with numerous delays and several lawsuits.

In 2005, the state agreed to sell Atlantic Yards — the land on which the arena would later be built — to developer Bruce Ratner for $100 million, despite internally valuing the land at $214 million.

To complete the sale of the land, the state threatened locals with eminent domain — allowing development gurus to commandeer Brooklynites’ private property to make way for the massive development — leading to fierce protests on either side.

The arena was eventually completed in 2011, paving the way for Prokhorov and his development partners’ enormous pay day.

Sadly for fans, Prokhorov’s financial success was not mirrored by the franchise’s success on the court.

Shortly after taking the reins of the Nets, Prokhorov pushed through one of the worst trades in NBA history, acquiring three aging players from the Boston Celtics by giving away four first-round draft picks — which Boston would later use to build one of the most dominant teams in the league.

Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, the team has combined for a 242-332 record, winning just one playoff series in 2014.

During their tenure in the borough, the team has featured one of the league’s worst fan attendance — placing in the bottom-five for home-game attendance every year.

Fans hope the new ownership — along with the recent free-agent signings of all-stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — will help turn the franchise into a title contender.

The sale of the team, and the arena, requires approval of the NBA Board of Governors to be finalized — which the Nets expect will happen by the end of September.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.