NEW YORK (AP) — The first step in what the New Jersey Nets hope is a quick turnaround is in place.
New owner Mikhail Prokhorov is eager to get started on the rest.
"For those who are already fans of the Nets and the NBA, I intend to give you plenty to cheer about," the Russian billionaire said in a statement.
The Nets are now officially the Nyets.
Prokhorov's purchase of the team was approved Tuesday by NBA's owners, who welcomed the first non-North American into their club.
Russia's richest man agreed to buy 80 percent of the Nets and 45 percent of an arena project in Brooklyn from developer Bruce Ratner late last year. Final approval of the sale was delayed until the state of New York had taken over all the land seized under eminent domain at the site of the team's Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Nets expect that transaction to close Wednesday, and the long-delayed 18,000-seat arena is to open in 2012.
The Nets hope Prokhorov's wealth — estimated at $9.5 billion through his banking and metals businesses — will be used to help them bounce back from a 12-70 finish that included an NBA-worst, 18-game losing streak to open the season.
The team was ruined by cost-cutting moves under Ratner, who signed off on the trades of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. There's money to spend now, with an estimated $23 million in salary cap room heading into free agency this summer, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are among the players who could be available.
Prokhorov already has proven he can build a winning basketball team, owning a share of European power CSKA Moscow.
"We anticipate that his passion for the game and business acumen will be of considerable value not only to the Nets franchise but to the entire NBA," commissioner David Stern said.
A person with knowledge of the voting results told The Associated Press that NBA owners voted 29-0 to approve the purchase. One team did not vote. The sale had to be approved by three-fourths of the NBA's owners.
The person requested anonymity because the voting totals were not released.
"Today's vote will give the NBA a greater global reach and bring a multitude of new fans to the game of basketball," Prokhorov said."
The next step for the Nets comes next week with the NBA draft lottery, in which they have a 25 percent chance of winning to earn the No. 1 pick and can finish no worse than fourth. Stern previously predicted Prokhorov could represent the team at the lottery.
Prokhorov's arrival in the NBA already has brought plenty of attention to the long-ignored franchise. The 6-foot-6 tycoon was an avid basketball player in his school days, is a fixture in glitzy European resorts and once was held in France for four days of questioning — but never charged — in a prostitution investigation.
He's now at the front of a team that will spend the next two years playing in Newark before the anticipated move to Brooklyn. Prokhorov hopes he has built a winning team by then.
"Mikhail and his team will bring tremendous innovation and excitement to the NBA," Ratner said.
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