NBA Owners Approve Nets Sale

NBA team owners on Wednesday unanimously approved the purchase of the New Jersey Nets by a group of state businessmen who reportedly have an interest in relocating the team to Newark.

Confirmation by the league's Board of Governors, which met in New York, came four months after the sale was announced. In that time, the league conducted background checks on the prospective owners.

"We are very pleased with that ownership group," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said.

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The sale, which needed the endorsement of at least 22 of the league's 29 teams, was worth about $150 million, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The team will not officially change hands until next month, sources close to the NBA said.

Approval came a day after the Nets reached agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, their landlord, to keep playing basketball at the Meadowlands sports complex through the 2007-08 season.

The deal, however, allows the team to leave at any time, but provides penalties if it goes outside the state before 2004, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. It contains no penalty for moving to Newark.

It also requires that the Nets see plans by the start of the 1999-2000 season to renovate the Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands, as well as plans to build an arena at the complex in East Rutherford.

The sports authority invited designers this summer to submit proposals on how to upgrade or build an arena at the Meadowlands complex.

Five of the seven former Nets owners retained a small stake in the team, according to The Star-Ledger.

The new ownership group, led by Newark native and philanthropist Raymond Chambers, wants a new arena for the team, possibly in Newark, a concept endorsed by Mayor Sharpe James and some state legislators.

A foundation created by Chambers, a leveraged buyout mogul, has the biggest share, about 20 percent, the newspaper said.

Messages seeking comment from Chambers and others in his consortium were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Details of the new lease are to be disclosed Nov. 20 when the authority's commissioners hold a public meeting, authoritspokesman John Samerjan said. It replaces a long-term lease that committed the Nets to the Meadowlands until 2020-21, but had escape windows after the 1999-2000 and 2003-04 seasons.

The 17-year-old arena is also home to the New Jersey Devils of the NHL. Both teams have long complained it does not have enough luxury suites and amenities, which means less revenue for the clubs.

The Devils' lease runs through the 2006-07 season, and its owner this year said he wants to move the team to Hoboken. Its lease terms were improved after the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995.

The departure of either the Nets or Devils could put the sports authority in a financial pinch.

The authority also operates Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands Racetrack at the complex in East Rutherford, the Monmouth Park horse track in Oceanport and convention centers in Atlantic City and Wildwood.

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