Since taking over ownership of the Nets, owner Mikhail Prokhorov has mostly kept quiet off the basketball court, allowing James Dolan to keep ownership of New York’s worst/most embarrassing owner. But while Dolan might be blessedly moving to the background with Phil Jackson coming aboard to try to fix the Knicks, Prokhorov is stepping in to fill the embarrassing owner hole by announcing his intention to make the Nets a Russian franchise right when U.S./Russia relations have moved from “frosty” to “retaliatory sanctions.” How’s your bandwagon now?
Prokhorov isn’t planning to uproot the team and its weird turtle shell spaceship over to Moscow, because then we’d help him pack. Prokhorov is trying to transfer the ownership of the team over to a Russian-based company, instead of an American company which owns them now. It’s not a simple matter of just changing a few words on contracts from “dollars” to “rubles,” as it turns out, since as the Times reports, the NBA is treating the attempted change as a whole new ownership situation, which has to be approved by the league.
While the Times talked to an expert on league ownership issues who pointed out that there’s nothing particularly illegal about foreign ownership, you need to get an exception to be a foreign-domiciled team, like the Toronto Raptors got. Of course, the Raptors didn’t move their team to help their owner’s political future in an autocratic country that just annexed a piece of their neighbor. And while sports franchise owners are almost without exception pure evil squeezed into suits, it’s very rare that you end up with one who faces questions like “Will your team face sanctions from the United States government?”