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Lewis Katz, Nets owner in Jason Kidd era, dies in Massachusetts plane crash

Brooklyn Nets

Lewis Katz, who owned the New Jersey Nets during their most successful era then sold the team to Bruce Ratner, was killed Saturday night when the Gulfstream IV he was flying in crashed at Hanscomb Field outside Boston. He was among seven killed.  The news was confirmed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, which he recently purchased.

"The Brooklyn Nets organization was shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic death of Lewis Katz, an exceptional man who was the visual face of the ownership group during the most successful period of the Nets NBA franchise," said the Nets in a statement. "Besides his love of the game, Lewis was deeply committed to the community and leaves an enduring record of philanthropic initiatives.  Our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

"All of us at the NBA were extremely saddened to learn of the tragic, sudden death of former Nets owner Lewis Katz," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "Among his many accomplishments were having led his Nets teams in 2002 and 2003 to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. I send my deepest condolences to the Katz family during this very difficult time."

Jason Collins, who played for the Nets when Katz owned the team and again this season, tweeted out his condolences...

Katz, 72, bought the team from the "Secaucus Seven" in 1998 and hired John Calipari as his head coach.  Katz and his partner Raymond Chambers instituted a number of changes in the way the team was run, beginning the turn that took it from NBA joke to championship contender. He set up the Nets first training facility in East Rutherford, now known as the PNY Center. He also owned the Devils for a time and was among the original investors in YES.

The team won 43 games in 1998 and made the playoffs losing to the Bulls in the playoffs. Katz fired Calipari in 1999 and then hired Rod Thorn as GM and Byron Scott as coach. At the 2000 NBA Draft Lottery, Katz represented the Nets and became famously excited when the Nets won the overall No. 1 pick, permitting them to take Kenyon Martin. The Nets had less than a four percent chance of getting the pick.

Katz initially didn't like the trade that changed the franchise forever. Thorn dealt Stephon Marbury, his favorite, for Jason Kidd and the Nets went to the NBA Finals two straight years, winning 52 games, still a team record, in 2001-02.  The team's success on the floor and its failings financially led to Katz and Chambers to sell the team to Ratner in 2004. That ultimately led to the Nets move to Brooklyn.

Katz said that even during the two playoff runs, he had failed to make a profit on the Nets, which particularly bothered him and Chambers because the profits were supposed to be plowed back into a foundation the two had set up.  In addition, Katz expressed frustration with New Jersey politicians who he wanted with him and Chambers on a Nets arena in Newark.  Even after the sale, the NBA relied on Katz. He was part of the team that recommended the Seattle Supersonics be moved to Oklahoma City.

The Katz family retains a small interest in Nets Sports & Entertainment, which owns 20 percent of the Nets.

Ratner was among those who issued personal statements after news of Katz's death had been confirmed.

"I am deeply saddened about the tragic death of Lewis Katz," said Ratner. "Lewis was a long-time and trusted friend of mine and also a valued partner with the Nets. He was a brilliant and innovative businessman, but more importantly a tireless and inspiring humanitarian. He directly impacted the lives of so many people and will be deeply missed.

"I send my heartfelt condolences to the Katz family."

Many of the Nets best known executives and personalities, including Bobby Marks, Gary Sussman and Chris Carrino either got their start or were nurtured during the Katz era. Carrino, hired in 2000, tweeted his condolences Sunday.

A native of Camden, Katz made his fortune investing in the Kinney Parking empire. In recent years, he has devoted much of his time to charitable activities including helping needy institutions in Camden, like the Boys and Girls Club and failing churches, as well as contributing to his alma mater, Temple University. He recently bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and, hoping to turn those properties around with in-depth journalism.

The Gulfstream IV crashed about 9:40 p.m. Saturday as it was departing for Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Hanscom, which has both military and civilian operations.