Among the nuggets revealed: his $1 million investment amounts to just one-fifteenth of one percent of the franchise, someone at the NBA didn't think the Nets' black jerseys would look good on black people, and the sheer amount of synergy Jay-Z is getting out of this deal—the Barclays Center will have a Rocawear store, a 40/40 Club, and a champagne bar that sells his uber-expensive Armand de Brignac line. But here's the most fascinating thing: Jay-Z gave zero cooperation to the Times story. This was "Shawn Carter Has a Cold."
Jay-Z has been featured in The Times very often throughout his career including your story and a large feature that focused on his day-to-day operations when he was President of Def Jam. It's somewhat shocking to know that you were turned down. I mean this is The New York Times. The Nets General Manager Billy King was profiled in the paper a few weeks ago. What was your pitch?
It was very straightforward and exactly how the story turned out to be. [He reads an excerpt from the initial email sent to Jay-Z's representatives that speaks on his goal of writing a "high-profile piece delving into Jay-Z's important but not widely understood role with the Nets."] I also reminded them that I wrote the "American Gangster" piece.
That's interesting. Maybe they were concerned you would reveal how much of the team he didn't really own. Many people were under the impression that it was 10 percent or maybe even 5 percent.
It's very simple. He invested $1 million and that was out of a $300 million purchase price. That's one-third of one percent, period. End of story.
Then that percentage went even lower?
When Mikhail D. Prokhorov (the billionaire owner of the Brooklyn Nets) bought 80 percent of the team what that does is squeezes down the 100 percent of all the other people into 20 percent. Everybody who had a piece up to that point had their stake divided by five. That's it. Clearly what Jay's stake is worth now, you could calculate it if you knew what the team was valued at based on Prokhorov's purchase and then you could guess how much it's gone up or down since then. But it's just simple math.
But doesn't that now explain why Jay-Z wouldn't want to speak with you. You were going to talk to him about owning one-fifteenth of one percent. For a guy who uses his ownership with the Nets for bragging rights in his music that may be damaging. It changes people's perception of King Hova?
First of all, I didn't pitch them about wanting to know how much he owned. It was clearly one of the questions I had but it was not like I was leading with my chin. I wasn't like, "Hey, I'd really like to ask Jay-Z exactly what his partnership stake is and while you are at it can you tell me his address and phone number?" I would argue with you on the notion of whether it undercuts his right to brag. In a way, you could brag that you had a larger piece of the Nets or you could brag that you've turned so much less of a piece of the Nets into so much more in perception. The judo involved in image-making and promotion and perception is reality that he has achieved with such a little percentage is something more to brag about than just putting on a larger chunk of change or having a larger percentage.
The story, then, is a classic write-around of the sort that's probably stronger for having kept its subject at arm's length. Halbfinger didn't have to dance around the issues that might have soured access. Instead, he spoke with Brett Yormark, Bruce Ratner, Billy King, and others from the ranks of the NBA offices, sports agents, and the music industry. As a consequence, he was able to raise thorny questions like whether Jay-Z's various businesses got sweetheart deals to be associated with the Nets, and if Jay-Z stopped attending Nets games during losing seasons specifically to protect his own brand. (Halbfinger makes clear he believes the answer to both questions is yes, even if he couldn't come out and say it in the Times.)