Will the Nets be caught in the crossfire of a Russia-U.S. Cold-ish War?



UPDATE: U.S. ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Brooklyn Nets, released this statement this morning:

“Preliminary discussions with the NBA were held in spring, 2013 and, at that time, the League indicated its willingness to work with us in the event we needed to reregister the ownership vehicle of the Nets as a Russian entity to comply with the Russian law regarding candidates for political office. This is a long process which may or may not come to fruition and nothing is imminent. Of course, no steps in this direction could or would be taken without the full knowledge and approval of the NBA. ”

Original post below.

The NBA will soon have to confront a question: will it approve a request by Mikhael Prokhorov that could, indirectly, strengthen Vladimir Putin’s hand in his conflict with the US and the West?

The US and its allies have begun imposing economic sanctions – including the freezing of some Russian assets in the West — and threatened more if Russia doesn’t change its course. Vladimir Putin has encouraged Russian businessmen with assets abroad to bring them home, and thereby take away that weapon from the West.

This week Michael Prokhorov said he would transfer ownership of the Nets to a Russian company – “in keeping with the Kremlin’s call on Russian businessmen to repatriate their assets to help combat new U.S. sanctions,” as Reuters put it. Prokhorov had announced the move last year but his statement now, said Reuters, “underlined his support for Putin.”

Prokhorov said that the NBA had already given him permission to change the ownership “in order to allow him to comply with a recent Russian law that regulates the overseas holdings of Russians seeking elected office,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

But an NBA spokesman told Reuters that they have not received any official request for an ownership change.

“The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov through a U.S.-based company,” Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, told Reuters. “We have received no official application nor is there a process underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to another company.”

Bass did not say whether the NBA would agree to such a request.

If the NBA did give a preliminary approval, that came before Russia invaded its neighbor. By approving the merger, the NBA would, in effect, help Putin execute his strategy of strengthening his position by repatriating Russian assets, depriving the West of sticks to use in the conflict.

On the other hand, it is not clear whether the next round of economic sanctions would include a broad group of assets, such as the Nets, or only those connected to economically vital industries such as energy — nor is it clear what it would mean if the Nets did become a frozen asset.