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The Return of Jay-Z

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Jay-Z showed up at more Knicks and Lakers games this season than he did at Nets games.  There were rumors he wasn't happy with the sale of the team--and the dilution of his and other minority investors' stakes. A few weeks after Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team, the Russian billionaire reportedly told people he wanted to meet with the hip-hop mogul, but there's been no subsequent reporting on whether the two ever did meet.  Prokhorov understands how important Jay-Z is to the franchise...and not just as a free agent recruiter.  Shawn Carter is as much a part of the team's global branding as a Russian owner or Chinese power forward...maybe more so.

On Thursday, he couldn't have had a bigger role.  He brought Beyonce' and the two of them added some celebrity flare. The official program listed him simply as "cultural icon".  He was one of only six people who took part in the photo-op before the actual ground breaking.  He not only spoke last but was repeatedly spoken about. The Rev. Al Sharpton likened hispioneering presence in the owners' box at Barclays Center to Jackie Robinson's in the batter's box at Ebbets Field.  Bruce Ratner spoke of how the two walked the arena footprint back in 2003 and how they were  mobbed.  It was, he said, an "honor" to have Jay-Z as a partner. 

Later, in an interview with WFAN, Ratner said he expected Jay-Z  to have a larger role in the future, while sidestepping a question about whether he still holds a significant stake in the team. "He will stay that involved and even more so," said Ratner. "So he's just been a wonderful partner and I'm fortunate to have met him and fortunate that he's had such a strong involvement with us."  The question now is how strong that involvement will be, starting with free agency and his friendship with everyone's No. 1 target, LeBron James. Jay-Z told SNY he's a friend first, but "if we can offer the best opportunity for him, then that's great.  If not , then, we just got to watch him from somewhere else."