THERE USED TO be time when NBA free agents were wooed by maybe a cheesesteak and a Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak in Philadelphia, a hot dog and a Rheingold in Coney Island, seafood and a zinfandel in San Francisco or a Miller and brat in Milwaukee.

Those were the days when owners could spend a few bucks on a meal and try to win over a potential franchise-changer with their charm. The stakes have changed. And with a tremendous twist.

The new New Jersey Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, is a Russian with a billion bucks to spend, a basketball team to play with and a sense of humor - I hope there is an attempt at humor here - that should be envied. Trying to attract LeBron James across the river to the Nets, Prokhorov paid for a billboard in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden, where the rival New York Knicks - who also see themselves as a player in the LeBron Sweepstakes - reside. The ad, painted on the side of a building, measures 225-by-95 feet and features Prokhorov and Jay-Z extolling the Nets' "Blueprint for Greatness."

The mural can be seen from Knicks owner Jim Dolan's office window in the Garden. The Knicks have already called the league office, bellyaching over the placement. Insert laugh track here.

Could you imagine if Jeffrey Lurie had this guy's guts and put up a billboard of Kevin Kolb and DeSean Jackson - "Youth Served" - outside the Redskins' FedEx Field? Lurie's image would be forever changed in Philadelphia.

The old change-your-number trick

Speaking of changing his image, Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas, in an effort to change his persona from a gun-toting fool - would you believe the gun wasn't loaded? - to an upstanding citizen, announced last March that he wanted to change his jersey number from "0" to "6." He has changed his mind and is in search of yet another number.

How about 99? That's about the percent chance that Arenas will be traded by the Wizards, who drafted John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and traded for Kirk Hinrich before the start of the draft. Agent 99? Sorry about that, Chief.

- Mark Perner