Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Friday, July 16, 2004

Bruce Ratner, Nationally Known Skinflint 

The dead of winter, early 2004.

Snow covered the ground, and Brooklyn was shivering in the worst cold snap of the season. At 9:30 p.m., the t.v. news trucks pulled up on the 6th Avenue Bridge over the Brooklyn Atlantic rail yards. The crowd at Freddy’s Bar knew why they were there…everyone in the neighborhood knew why they were there.

Real-estate developer Bruce Ratner had just been chosen as the new owner of the New Jersey Nets.

The reporters, who all looked shorter and rougher around the edges than they look on television, were stomping their frosty feet, trying to stay warm. Their camera people, more hardened to the elements, weren’t.

The lights went on and the reporters dutifully told New York City that Ratner was the chosen one -- chosen not just to steward the Nets, not just to finally -- finally! -- swab salve on the collective wound perceived to have been caused by the Dodgers’ departure lo those many years ago, but to bring prosperity and modernity to the Borough of Brooklyn.

“And here’s where he’ll do that,” the reporters all said, gesturing at the rail yards and the only graffiti-covered building in sight. The camera people dutifully panned their lenses out over the yards, looking especially forlorn and desolate in the cold winter’s night.

“Not everyone, of course, is happy with the choice” the reporters intoned, throwing a bone to local residents who would soon learn about eminent domain abuse, tax abatements for wealthy developers, political back-room deals, obnoxious politicians, the history of battles against Robert Moses and Donald Trump, rallies, phone calls, e-mails, websites, discussion boards, public hearings, letter-writing campaigns, benefit concerts, ULURP, EIS, TIF, gag orders, evictions, alternative proposals, neighbors pitted against neighbors, and wedges wielded and driven by Forest City Ratner between Brooklyn’s races and classes.

Brooklynites are smart. Among the first things they realized about Bruce Ratner was that his purchase of the New Jersey Nets had nothing to do with basketball, the NBA, or even, the usual practice of wildly-successful businesspeople fulfilling their fantasies of owning a major league sports franchise. We already knew it had nothing to do with Brooklyn and its vivid tapestry of history and culture.
And now…the snow’s gone…the news crews are gone…summer, Brooklyn’s best season, is in full bloom.

…and one other change: what was once a viewpoint held by a few Brooklyn residents who shifted uneasily at the news of Bruce Ratner’s overpriced purchase of the Nets (“he don’t care nothing’ about us or the team -- he’s just trying to get his office towers built on top of us.”) is now a nationally-recognized fact.

Newspapers across the country are running Ratner’s-a-cheapskate stories…his spin-meisters are going into Code Red mode…Nets fans are flooding sports talk radio stations here in New York with angry, invective-filled calls…season-ticket holders are canceling their plans.
These days, you have to live under the proverbial rock not to understand Bruce Ratner’s endgame.

By refusing to sign Kenyon Martin, the team’s heart-and-soul and a fan favorite, Ratner proved what was clear to Brooklynites back in the frozen mid-winter months: to get his 17-building office/commercial/residential project off the ground, Bruce Ratner was buying an NBA franchise to seduce local politicians and, it was hoped, enough of Brooklyn’s residents into going along with his insane plan.

But don’t take our word for it. The Nets’ beat reporters, fresh from having been summoned to Ratner’s office just a week ago so that the developer, hurt by the negative press he was already receiving, could lie to them about his commitment to signing Martin, and exaggerate his love for Brooklyn, had their say in this morning’s editions.

Woj: Smelling a Rat(ner) [headline]

Here's what you do this morning: Take the 2004-2005 season ticket application,rip it up, and make your last financial investment as a New Jersey Nets' fan: Apostage stamp. Send the remains to Bruce Ratner at 1 MetroTech Center North inBrooklyn, and tell him this franchise officially belongs to him. Tell him thatovernight, he's turned the Nets back into the biggest joke in the NBA.“Most of all, tell him that you've lived it too long, and you refuse to do itagain. Tell him to take his team, and get out of your life forever.
Once more, the Nets are a disgrace. That didn't take long, did it? Ratner is theworst of the worst in sports, an owner treating his team like another realestate purchase, buying it up, stripping it down, and spending the rest of histime and money on a sweetheart deal in Brooklyn.

Worst of all, Ratner could care less. Winning is irrelevant to him. All theseowners want to make money. They have the right. Nobody begrudges them that.Yet, Ratner doesn't know basketball and he doesn't know sports and he suredoesn't know the investment fans need to root for his team.

Before the new owner had even officially been approved by the Board of Governors, he [Ratner] had turned himself into the biggest joke in the NBA.”
-- David Wojnarowski, Bergen Record 

* * * * * * * *

The Nets bid farewell to Kenyon Martin yesterday. And by parting with their 26-year-old All-Star, they are also saying goodbye to their days as contenders.

Rather than paying millions to keep their vocal leader and inside presence, the Nets signed and traded Martin to the Nuggets for three first-round picks.

Without a doubt, this is a move that will be unpopular with Nets players and fans.

"The Nets aren't about winning anymore," one of Kidd's teammates said. "It's about development."
-- Ohm Youngmisuk, New York Daily News 

* * * * * * * *

Prospective owner Bruce Ratner gave every indication he would match the Nuggets' offer, but investors around him opposed the move, sources said. When the Nuggets revised the offer to make it too heavy up front, the Nets caved. -- Fred Kerber, New York Post 
* * * * * * * *
Kenyon Martin never will see Brooklyn in a Nets uniform.The first major transaction since real-estate developer Bruce Ratner purchased the team and vowed to build a new arena in Brooklyn didn't send a positive signal to the current roster or the team's lame-duck fan base in New Jersey. There was an angry outpouring at Nets fan Web sites from people vowing to cancel their season tickets or multigame packages.
-- Greg Logan, Newsday

* * * * * * * *

[F]or now, Brooklyn is a concept, and the loss of Martin is a reality.

Another reaction came from Jeff Schwartz, the agent for Kidd, who is rehabilitating from knee surgery earlier this month. "Jason is processing this now,'' Schwartz said. He said that Kidd thought the fans "can't be happy'' with the Martin trade, but that Kidd also had a lot of confidence in the ability of Thorn and Ed Stefanski, the team's general manager, to rebuild.

Less than two weeks ago, Ratner met with reporters in an effort to dispel stories that he was ordering cost-cutting within the Nets organization and that he would not allow the team to retain Martin. But a person with knowledge of the decision-making within the Nets' hierarchy said that Ratner and Thorn held discussions in the middle of this week in which they concluded that matching the Denver contract would create a salary-cap nightmare for the Nets.

In the end, neither dollars nor statistics really define Martin. If Kidd was the team's quiet leader, Martin provided the Nets' fire. And now the Nets have to find a way to replace it - and to deal with the anger of their fans. -
- Steve Popper, New York Times 
* * * * * * * *

Bruce Ratner has a problem that just got worse.

Despite his efforts to assure Nets fans he had no intention of cutting payroll, season ticket-holders waited to see how the team handled the Kenyon Martin situation and aren't renewing their ticket plans at anywhere near the projected pace Ratner expected, according to a person with knowledge of the team's business affairs.

Yesterday, the anger boiled over as the Nets agreed to a deal to send Martin to Denver for three draft picks instead of paying the All-Star power forward nearly $90 million over the next seven years.

Every fan I know is looking at himself and wondering, 'Where are we going from here?'" said John Pollara, a 13-year season ticket-holder from Boonton. "For our entertainment dollar we don't just want to be thought of as the ugly duckling, but I don't know if management is committed to worrying about the New Jersey fan base."
Deposits on season tickets, which guarantee fans they will have the same seats as last season, were due yesterday.

Ratner needs approval from the NBA board of governors before he officially takes over control of the team. That decision, which seems like a rubber stamp, was originally scheduled for today but has been delayed until next week.

Thorn and Ratner did not return phone calls seeking comment. Gary Sussman, a team spokesman, said the Nets do not discuss their business plans.
-- Matthew Futterman, Newark Star-Ledger

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