Biz-tsar turn! Nets owner wants to pass team offices to Russia

Saint Brooklyn's: An artist's rendering of what Moscow might look like if Brooklyn's home-team gets really popular there.

Call them the Moscow Nets.

Brooklyn Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is looking to pass the basketball team’s corporate offices back to his mother country, apparently out of fear that a second Iron Curtain is descending as a result of Russia’s contentious military maneuvering in Ukraine. In his announcement, Prokhorov vowed that the unusual fast-break would be totally aboveboard.

“A Russian company will own the basketball club,” Prokhorov told reporters on Monday, according to the wire news service Reuters. “This (move) does not violate any NBA rules and I will bring it (under Russian jurisdiction) in accordance with Russian law.”

He did not mention it, but the plutocrat’s proclamation came the same day Russia was suspended from the Group of Eight, a Western conference of industrialized countries that includes the United States, and the U.S. slapped Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle of officials and oligarchs with economic sanctions. The boxing-out was a response to Russia’s zone offensive on Crimea, a region of Ukraine that once belonged to Russia. Western leaders said the power play was way out of bounds.

Prokhorov lost the 2012 Russian presidential election to Putin and the hoops mogul’s Moscow mayoral bid was thwarted last summer by a new law forbidding political candidates from owning real estate abroad. In addition to a 45 percent stake in the Barclays Center, Prokhorov reportedly owns an island inAfrica’s Seychelles, and a chalet in the Alps, where French authorities accused him of flying in prostitutes to ring in the Russian Orthodox New Year in 2007. Those charges were later dropped.

The National Basketball Association has not received an application for the buzzer-beating ownership transfer of the Nets, according to a spokesman, who did not say whether such a long-shot move would be allowed.

The league would probably prefer that the companies running Brooklyn’s home-team remain where they are — the Nets’ front office is in Downtown’s MetroTech while Prokhorov’s holding company Onexim Sports and Entertainment is registered in Delaware — but it has also been trying to expand its global imprint, a sports law expert said.

Any agreement would have to also play by Russian rules, the expert added.

“Clearly, there might be differences in terms of tax law and other bodies of law that could pertain to a team operating in Russia, which is different to the United States,” said Marc Edelman, a law professor at the City University of New York’s Zicklin School of Business.

The venue change would require approval of the league’s board of 30 team owners, a league spokesman said.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Free agent: Mikhail Prokhorov is the Nets' Russian billionaire owner.
Photo by Stefano Giovaninni

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