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NBA boss hopeful on sale of Nets, return of refs

NBA commissioner David Stern believes he could have a new owner before the year ends and his old referees before the season starts.

"I'm hopeful with respect to both and optimistic with respect to both," Stern said yesterday.

The commissioner said Mikhail Prokhorov, who has a deal to buy 80 percent of the New Jersey Nets, had a positive introduction with NBA owners during their two-day Board of Governors meetings.

Prokhorov's application is under review and the sale must be approved by three-fourths of the league's owners. The league is performing background checks of Russia's richest man, and Stern stressed that the process is still early.

"The review process is incomplete and the documents are not finalized," Stern said. "That said, we haven't surfaced anything that has caused us to have a negative opinion of him. We're not finished."

But Stern said, "We're looking forward to the completion of that transaction."

The commissioner also said owners voted to give the league office emergency powers to determine what happens if teams can't field the minimum eight players because of illness.

Prokhorov's proposed deal with Nets owner Bruce Ratner to become the NBA's first non-North American owner would also give him nearly half of a project to build a new arena in Brooklyn. The agreement was made a month ago, and this was Prokhorov's first chance since to meet his potential future fellow owners.

Prokhorov introduced himself as "Mike" and told owners of his interests in business and basketball - he owns a share of CSKA Moscow. With an estimated US$9.5 billion through his banking and metals businesses, he has the worth to absorb some of the Nets' huge debt and perhaps help make the team's Brooklyn plans a reality.

Ratner faces a December deadline to break ground in Brooklyn or lose access to financing from tax-free bonds, so Stern said there will be a desire on both sides to get the Nets' sale completed by then.

"That's our target," Stern said.

Stern rejoined the negotiations with the referees' union this week and a tentative agreement was reached. The union is scheduled to vote on Friday, and if they approve the new two-year contract, the officials would have a training camp beginning on Saturday and be on the floor in time for Tuesday's opener.

But the league thought a deal was completed once before and it fell through when the refs rejected it, so Stern would only say it's "our hope that they approve it, but there's no guarantees."


-Stern said the revenue sharing pool to be divided among teams will increase this season from US$49 million to US$60 million.

-NBA TV will reach 45 million American homes, up from about 15 million, following the completion of a multiyear deals with cable systems that were completed on Thursday.

-Season-ticket renewals were at 76 percent, down from 79 percent. The league still expects overall revenues to decline 2.5 percent to 5 percent.


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