In naming Mikhail Prokhorov its Russian businessman of the year, Forbes Russia reports this week that the former Nets owner may have made a profit of $2 billion on the sale of the team and Barclays Center.
Based on interviews with Prokhorov’s No. 2, Dmitry Razumov, and others, Forbes provided further details on the sale to Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai, which has been valued at $3.4 billion, the biggest in NBA history. Razumov said Tsai’s offer was an one Prokhorov couldn’t refuse. Prokhorov was not interviewed for the profile.
Specifically, when Forbes asked Razumov about reports that Prokhorov had laid out a total of $1.5 billion during his nine years as owner, the former Nets chairman responded by saying that Prokhorov’s expenditures were less than that. He wouldn’t disclose further details, however. That would mean that the Russian oligarch’s profit would have been in the $2 billion range.
Prokhorov initially agreed to lay out $223 million in cash, assume $160 million in team debt and finance $60 million in basketball operations back in 2009 in return for 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the unbuilt arena. He also invested $76 million in bonds to finance the non-revenue producing portions of the arena. But that was just the beginning of his investment.
Four years ago, he bought out the remaining investors in the team and arena, led by previous owner Bruce Ratner, for $285 million in cash and notes. (Only about a quarter of the transaction was in cash.) That gave Prokhorov complete control of both.
Along the way, he also spent tens of millions on dollars on the team infrastructure including the $52 million HSS Training Center and improvements to the arena. Moreover, he took on the team’s operating losses ... including nearly $140 million in luxury taxes paid out over a three-year period between 2013 and 2015. He paid a record $90.57 million in luxury taxes in 2014 alone.
Asked by Forbes why Prokhorov chose to sell, Razumov said they believed it was time.
“We built what we wanted to,” Razumov explained, according to a translation of the Forbes Russia article. “The team moved to Brooklyn, gained its identity and the best infrastructure in the league. We have increased the fan base, increased revenue by 4-to-5 times. The arena has become one of the phenomena of New York. In general, we leave the superfood. And it was important for us to exit the project on this high note.”
Razumov, in fact, described the price that Tsai paid for the Nets and Barclays Center as “exorbitant,” adding, “This is a deal that couldn’t be refused.”
The rise in NBA team valuations was also a factor, said Razumov.
“We realized that there was a reassessment of the NBA teams,” says Razumov, noting that in 2014, Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer paid a then-record $2 billion for the Clippers.
“We actively did not offer a team to anyone, but in 2015–2016 we thought that if there was an interested buyer, we would consider selling part of our package in order to take profit and stay in the risk-free zone.” In 2017, investment bankers hired by Prokhorov told Razumov that Tsai was interested in buying the NBA club and would make an initial investment of more than a billion dollars for 49 percent of the team.
First, Razumov said, he and Prokhorov wanted to make sure Tsai was on the same track as far as development of basketball operations.
“Since the initial discussion involved partnership of a minimum of 3-to-4 years, this required a personal acquaintance and understanding of whether we were suitable for each other,” Dmitry explained according to the translation. They agreed Tsai shared Prokhorov’s views on the development of the team and the initial deal went through. Then in August of this year, the agreement was accelerated and the deal expanded to include the operating rights to Barclays Center, which were valued at $1.15 billion, Forbes reports.
Razumov also seemed to dismiss the idea that Prokhorov is interested in selling the renovated Nassau Coliseum, which he bought in 2015. It was not included in the Tsai sale.
“The arena is a nice, good asset that we continue to develop,” said Razumov, adding that there are no offers for the sale on the table.
In its rationale for naming Prokhorov, Forbes Russia noted that the sale was just the latest in a series of transactions where he sold high, whether in selling interests in nickel, gold or basketball.