Former New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils owner Lewis Katz was one of seven passengers who died Saturday when a plane they were riding on crashed in Massachusetts, Hanscom Field airport officials confirmed. He was 72.
Dan Adams, Melissa Hanson, Jeremy C. Fox and Todd Feathers of The Boston Globe reported the story, speaking to officials who are currently investigating the cause of the crash. A police officer told the Globe that the plane never took off for its intended destination, driving through the runway and then bursting into flames before going into a nearby gully.
Katz, who was a co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News and other subsidiaries, was part of the ownership group that purchased the Nets in 1998. Under his stewardship, the Nets blossomed into a perennial Eastern Conference contender. They made the Finals in back-to-back seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03, led in large part by Jason Kidd at the peak of his career.
Katz sold his shares to Bruce Ratner in 2004 and was also an owner of the Devils before doing the same thing. The Nets are currently owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, who facilitated the team's move to Brooklyn before the 2012-13 NBA season. The Devils' majority owner is Joshua Harris, who also owns the Philadelphia 76ers.
Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on behalf of the NBA offering condolences:
All of us at the NBA were extremely saddened to learn of the tragic, sudden death of former Nets owner Lewis Katz. Lewis was a trusted friend and valued member of the NBA family. He was a visionary businessman who touched the lives of so many with his tireless pursuit of innovation and enterprise, as well as his deep commitment to his family, friends and community. Among his many accomplishments were having led his Nets teams in 2002 and 2003 to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. I send my deepest condolences to the Katz family during this very difficult time.
As a key investor in Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, Katz also helped get that fledgling network off the ground and become a staple of cable television packages. The Yankees sold off a majority share of the YES Network to News Corp. (Fox) earlier this year for $584 million.
Katz also acquired his fortune via Kinney Parking, one of the United States' largest parking lot companies.
A prominent investor and attorney, Katz was one of the biggest philanthropists for Pennsylvania-based universities. He sat on the board of trustees at Temple University in Philadelphia and made a $15 million gift to the Dickinson School of Law, which opened the Lewis Katz Building in his name at its Penn State University home.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Lewis Katz,” Jim Houck, interim dean of Dickinson Law school said in a statement. “Countless lives have been improved thanks to his good work. We are proud of not only all that he has accomplished in his life but of the spirit of generosity and caring that he shared with so many organizations.”
Katz was a Camden, New Jersey native and gave back to numerous local groups, in particular community centers and educational groups for lower-income families.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash but has given no further details at this time. Our thoughts are with Katz's friends and family during this tragic period.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: