When reports surfaced a couple days ago that rapper/mogul/all-everything-everything dude Jay-Z had sold his ownership stake in the Brooklyn Nets, I was absolutely shocked. Yes, I know he didn’t actually own that much of the team — though I would have guessed it was something like 3-5 percent of it, not like, way way less than 1 percent — but for him to jump ship after less than a full season since he ostensibly had a large part in moving the team across state lines and into his backyard, and when the Nets were still doing OK as a basketball team … it just seemed so anti-climactic for him to cut bait right before the playoffs.
But more than the surprise of him doing it at all was the lack of fanfare with which he appeared to do it. No big press release, no tearful press conference, no tweets or website posts, just an Adrian Wojanrowski report without an official comment. And for what? The chance for his Roc Naton company to represent NBA talent in the upcoming draft? Was that really such a critical next step in the life of a man with a net worth of about half a billion dollars that he was willing to shed his stake in a team he’d invested years (if not necessarily millions) in bringing back to national prominence, as if it was just a minor formality, just like filing the proper paperwork?
This seemed particularly insane to me on Tuesday, as I went to see my Sixers take on the Nets at Barclays Center. As usual at Barclays, there was never more than a fifteen-minute period without some sort of Jay-Z-related song getting played. “Public Service Announcement” alone appeared in different contexts at least three times. In addition to that, and the rest of the supposedly partly-Jigga-curated playlist for the evening, and the uniforms he supposedly helped design (and definitely unveiled), and the 40/40 Club located within the building, there was even a Jay-Z banner hanging in the rafters for the eight sold-out shows he played to open the building, like it took Billy Joel and Elton John decades to get at Madison Square Garden. Mikhail Prokhorov may own the team, but Jay-Z surely owns the building. (Ed. note: He also literally owns part of the building.)
What’s more, Hov always seemed to take a considerable amount of pride in the Nets, and in particular his bringing them to Brooklyn. He wore his own Nets jersey onstage at Barclays. The Zadie Smith profile on Jigga for the New York Times was called “The House That Hova Built,” even though the article only made passing references to anything basketball or Brooklyn-related. In his most famous verse of the 2010′s, Jay bragged about “moving the Nets to BK” and scoffed at the idea of the Nets going 0-82 (something that was disturbingly close to a possibility in ’09-’10) being a problem. (“And anyway, the worse the Nets do, the easier it’ll be for Jay to move them to Brooklyn. This man cannot lose!” comments the RapGenius interpretation of the lyric.) This was not just some silent partner, this is a guy whose largely unassailable public identity was now almost inextricable from the basketball team he owned .067 percent of.
So what happened? Did Jay-Z note the team’s relatively low playoff ceiling, uninspiring and uncharismatic roster, and seemingly permanently spoken-for cap space and decide to cut his losses? Was it strictly a dollars and cents decision, with the cash-money opportunities of entering into the sports agency game too considerable to remain attached to the Nets for sentimentality’s sake? And does Jay think that this really is all just a formality, and that he can continue on being the unofficial spokesperson for the Nets even after he’s divested himself from the team financially, in sort of a business/sports equivalent to “I really hope we can still be friends?” We can’t know for sure, since Jay-Z’s not even talking about it.
Well, now he’s sort of talking about it. Yesterday brought with it “Open Letter,” a freestyle-ish Jigga joint released on his Life and Times website, one that mostly focuses on the response to his and Beyonce’s apparently controversial trip to Cuba, but which also touches on his Nets ownership:
I woulda moved the Nets to Brooklyn for free
Except I made millions off it you f–king dweebs
I still own the building, I’m still keeping my seats
You buy that bulls–t, you better keep your receipts
It certainly seems like Jay is referencing his recent Nets ownership sale, but nobody can seem to agree on what exactly he’s saying. “Is Jay-Z dissing Nets fans?” hypothesizes ESPN New York. “Jay-Z Flaunts Big Brooklyn Nets Cash,” interprets the Hollywood Reporter. “Jay-Z releases ‘Open Letter’ criticizing … his critics?” wonders an unsure NetsDaily. Personally, when I first heard and read the lyrics, I saw it as being a straight denial that he had even sold his stake in the team at all –I just wished he had found a way to get “Wojnarowski” into his rhyme scheme. Point is, nobody really knows for sure.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Jiggaman was just deploying diversionary stall tactics here, seeming to respond to the light negative press and criticism he’s received for reports of his ownership sale without saying anything specific that he’d later have to contradict. Maybe the news got out faster than he intended it to, and now he’s trying to buy time while he figures out what his next step is PR-wise so that he can keep up his well-established link to the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center without coming off like a fairweather fan. If anyone can do it, certainly, it’d be Jay-Z, the hustler who could sell water to a well, always finding a way to spin a bad situation into this s–t being perpetually gravy.
If I was a Nets fan, though, and Jay really did sell his stake in the team as reported, I’m not so sure how willing I’d be to take him back as a team icon and general celebrity well-wisher. True, sports is a business, and as well all know so is Jay-Z. But even if Hov’s decision was purely financial and he remains a devoted Nets booster, there’s a thoughtlessness to his shedding of his Nets ownership that even if purely symbolic, I’d still think would have to be taken as disrespectful to the fans and the franchise that he so purported to represent. The next time I go to Barclays in the post-Hov-owned world, I kinda hope it’s nothing but Nas, Mobb Deep and Cam’Ron for two-and-a-half hours.