In 2003, real estate mogul Bruce Ratner bought the New Jersey Nets for $300 million.
Over the next 11 years Ratner sold all but 20 percent of his stake to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets moved into the brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the NBA’s popularity grew exponentially.
Now Ratner, who owns the development firm Forest City Enterprises, is looking to sell the rest of his stake in the team, and his company has set the Nets’ value at $1 billion, the Sports Business Journal reported.
The number isn’t too surprising.
In January, Forbes released its valuations of all 30 NBA franchises. Three teams were valued over $1 billion–the New York Knicks ($1.4b), Los Angeles Lakers ($1.2b), and Chicago Bulls ($1.0b). The Boston Celtics came fourth, at $875 million. The Nets placed fifth, at $780 million. The league average was $643 million.
The Nets, however, had the biggest increase over the previous year, with a 47 percent jump in valuation. No other team had grown by more than 36 percent.
The Nets don’t have the rich tradition, nor the established fan base, of the four highest-valued teams. But the franchise resides in the country’s biggest market and plays in a state-of-the-art arena.
The values of NBA teams have soared across the board in recent years. In 2010, an ownership group led by Joe Lacob bought the Golden State Warriors for a then-NBA record $450 million. The franchise plays in a large market and has an entrenched and committed fan base, but it was also a perennially losing team in an old arena.
The record didn’t last long. In March 2013, a group led by Vivek Ranadive, a former minority owner of the Warriors, bought the Sacramento Kings, a small market team in a dingy arena, for $534 million. Then last month, two hedge fund billionaires bought the Milwaukee Bucks – the worst team in the league – for $550 million.
So it stands to reason that the successful franchises with high-profile players in major media markets, approach the billion dollar mark. By the time Ranadive sold his stake in the Warriors so he could buy the Kings, Golden State was valued at $850 million. Whoever buys the Los Angeles Clippers from disgraced owner Donald Sterling will likely pay close $1 billion.
The NBA is gradually marching toward the NFL’s throne as the most valuable professional sports league. There is still much ground to cover, though. According to Forbes‘ calculations, 23 football franchises are valued at more than $1 billion.