Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 at 2:25 pm  |  43 responses

Links: The Most Interesting Man In The World

The Russians aren’t coming, they’re here!

by Lang Whitaker

He made his $14 billion fortune in metals and alloys. He once got in trouble for showing up at a ski resort with so many beautiful women that even the French police got suspicious. When he was featured on “60 Minutes,” he brandished machine guns and sipped fine wines.

He is the most interesting man in the world, and his name is Mikhail Prokhorov. And now he now owns the New Jersey Nets.

A few hours ago at the Four Seasons hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Prokhorov had his first official press conference as owner of the Nets. There were well over 100 media members assembled, a mind-blowing number considering this was a press conference for a team that finished 49(!) games behind Cleveland this season.

prokhorov1The 6-8 Prokhorov ambled into the room a few minutes before noon, all angles, wearing a gray suit and royal blue tie. He walks like an athlete, his head slightly bowed, his limbs moving creakily, as though he has a disassociated ligament still dangling loose inside his ankle or knee. His buzz cut gave him a resemblance to Anthony Perkins. Prokhorov took a seat in front of the room at a table before a step-and-repeat banner with the Nets logo and the team’s latest marketing phrase, “It’s All New.” Perhaps it is, though the words “New Jersey” weren’t on any of the signage.

“For me,” Prokhorov began, deadpan, “is great pleasure. I am owner of team with the best record in the NBA.” The media chuckled at his joke, and Prokhorov looked around in faux disbelief. “Was I misinformed?” For the next 45 minutes, Prokhorov handled everything thrown at him. He spoke slowly and assuredly, his hands flapping up from the table whenever he talked.

Prokhorov grew up watching the NBA as a teenager in Russia on “video tape recorder,” and he was a big fan of Larry Bird. Once he had the ends, he wanted to own an NBA team because “the NBA is great competition.” And as the first foreign NBA owner, from the US’s former Cold War partner, no less, Prokhorov noted the seismic shift in geopolitical relations over the last few decades with a wink: “I say to Americans, I come in peace.”

Regarding the Nets, Prokhorov said he expects the team to make the Playoffs next season, and he believes they will be a championship team in between one and five seasons. He was circumspect about the Nets finishing just third in the Draft lottery — “Lottery, it’s random” — and flashed his knowledge of NBA history, however unrealistic, when he said, “Few years ago, player drafted third. He did pretty good in his career. His name, Michael Jordan.”

Prokhorov seemed to honestly feel the Nets weren’t far from being contenders. He wants to keep Rod Thorn, let Kiki Vandeweghe walk, hire a coach — he said they have several candidates and he wants to talk to a few Russian coaches, too — and then get involved in free agency, where he felt “pretty sure I can convince the best of the best the Nets is where they need to be.”

“Add team spirit,” Prokhorov, well, added. “Little bit luck, little bit money, we go straight to top.”

Whenever he seemed unsure of what to say, he repeatedly riffed on the theme of “I need to have a few secrets.” It was funny the first time, puzzling by the tenth instance. When a local TV sports anchor asked about how much involvement he planned to have with the front office, Prokhorov grinned and said, “If I tell you I will have to kill you.”

While his English wasn’t perfect and his comedic chops could use honing, you have to give him a lot of credit for coming out and facing the media and at least giving this press conference a shot. As the NBA has run headlong into globalization the last few years, I’ve interviewed several athletes (Yao Ming, Nene) who’d been in the US for a while but still preferred to use an interpreter for interviews, just to be safe. Prokhorov handled himself well, even if some of his vocabulary was a little strange, like when he described himself and Jay-Z as “soulmates.”

Overall, it was a breezy session. The expectations are so low right now, Prokhorov doesn’t have to do much to make the Nets at least sound like winners. He has a clear passion for basketball and winning, and he’s definitely got the money to pour into this withering franchise to rescue it from creeping insignificance. (Although, when asked if he’d be willing to lose money if he won a title, Prokhorov said, “Your question is not very optimistic. I like more to earn money than lose money.”)

If nothing else, Prokhorov has already brought a dash of positive energy. I’ve written several times how, in my mind, the worst thing an NBA team can become is irrelevant, and after going to the Finals consecutively in ‘02 and ‘03, that’s exactly what the Nets had become. Almost overnight, the Nets are now a global franchise that has interest in multiple bases — there were reporters at the press conference today representing outlets in Manhattan, Newark, Brooklyn and Russia.

All of a sudden, the Nets matter. And the most interesting man in the world wants to keep it that way.

“There is only one way to go,” he said, “ and that is up.”

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks Lang. This is gonna be fun.

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    In unrelated news, a MiG-21 was seen circling the Wizards training facilities. Stay tuned…………………

  • Saami

    I particularly liked the part of this article where you discussed the ongoing conference finals.

  • http://slamonline.com Adam Fleischer

    Ha. Nice recap. He had some great choppy English quotes. And did he really say him and Hov are soulmates? That’s classic.

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    An NBA championship ring seems to have washed ashore Brighton Beach. Some youths were believed to have spotted something floating offshore resembling an elderly woman in a bright yellow suit…..

  • Pingback: SLAM ONLINE | » Hot Topics

  • MountainGoat

    I thought Steve Nash was the most interesting man in the world. Or was that most ridiculous?

  • http://slamonline.com Maurice Bobb

    Can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve. “I must break you!” *Ivan Drago voice*

  • http://TheNoLookPass.Com Rey-Rey

    He didn’t bring hot Russian women to the press conference? Bummer.

  • Sparker

    i guess it’ll be bad if it doesn’t work out, but if it does, he could change the whole profile of what passes for upper upper management in the nba. i hope he starts doing crazy sh*t immediately.

  • blackonblack

    Who am I?

  • alan chestnut

    My man:
    When did you go conservative on everyone…what’s with the Wall Street hair?…this won’t cloud your hoops acumen, will it?…Stay thirsty, my friends…

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    @Sparker; don’t worry he will. He didn’t buy the Nets to sit around and watch as they have so and so seasons. Money will be flowing like it was vodka at a Russian brothel. He will be the most big spending team owner within a season for sure, Cuban’s reign is over.

  • larrylegend

    sorry mark.

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    In my country basketball shoots you

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/nba/2010/03/paul-pierce-and-the-celtics-hearing-boos/ L

    In Soviet Russia you dont own the team. The team owns you!

  • http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:OzhW3M1GBSKkgM:http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, the Nets win.

  • Exile

    Jackie Moon Wins!

  • http://www.another48minutes.com Gerard Himself

    hahahaha Jackie nice

  • http://slamonline.com AlbertBarr

    This guy is making the east interesting. I think he legit shot at luring Lebron.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Thanks for all the comments guys. I don’t think the Playoffs are an unrealistic goal, especially in the East. It’s going to be really interesting to see Prokhorov go to work.

  • MikeC.

    It’s going to take a lot more than choppy English and promises of spending to make the Nets worthwhile again. A new owner isn’t going to wash the stink off that franchise right away. Prokhorov should have purchased the team last year in order to have a season to prove what he wants to do. As of now, he’s just a new guy saying old things. “We want to win. We’ll spend to win. We’re aiming for a championship”. Every team says that until they stop saying it when the shiny new shine is covered in stink. Most free agents will probably just look at the Nets and think “new owner, probably the same old Nets. I’m not ruining my legacy with that scum-hole.” Then they’ll move on to Chicago, Miami, NY, etc. Even the Clippers have a better shot at a big-name FA. Sure, they suck, but the weather is better in LA. My bet is the Nets’ big splash this summer consists of paying max dollars to some guys that aren’t worth it.

  • Yesse

    He is a pretty interesting guy. Especially with that positive attitude. I still can’t say, that what he says might come true.

  • http://hoopistani.blogspot.com Hoopistani

    quote of the day: “For me,” Prokhorov began, deadpan, “is great pleasure. I am owner of team with the best record in the NBA.”

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com TADOne

    If any owner can convince LeBron or Wade to join their team, this guy would be that owner. He could promise Wade to bring Miami and their women to him and convince LeBron that Brooklyn will be home in 2 years and JayZ will always be a part of the team. Winning a championship would be a mere formality at that point. I think that Brook Lopez will be the best big man in the East by the end of next season.

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    Brook really didn’t progress much during the second half of the season. It’s time to get him some tutoring. If he can make his game resemble that of a Carlos Boozer type strength pivot player he will be more dominant than anyone in he east. More upper body and core strenght and keep working on that short range jimmy.

  • Tommy Patron

    Mike C.-Ever hear of the Mavs?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Here’s Prokhorov on Mike Francesa’s show yesterday afternoon — pretty great:

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    Starting 5 with options:
    1. Devin Harris
    2. Lebron James(FA)/DWade(FA)/JJ Redick(FA)/Kyle Korver(FA)
    3. Matt Bonner(FA)
    4. Demarcus Cousins/Chris Bosh(FA)
    5. Brook Lopez

    There are many more options to explore.
    Finding a coach will be more challenging.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    So far, so good. He’s got Cuban’s enthusiasm, at least. Really excited to see what he can do for the Nets. And the playoffs aren’t a dream – this season, in the East, you just had to be better than Chicago or Toronto to make the cut. Chicago only has 2 players who really are playoff-team starting 5 material. And Toronto’s incumbent most skilled player loves pizza and partying in Yorkville more than he seems to want to play basketball.

  • barnabusb

    Thanks, Lang. Even though I don’t know much about him, he’s pretty much the awesomest thing going right now.

  • Jose

    He once had an awkward moment, just to see what it would feel like(Losing the draft lottery)

  • matt

    Good money says Ak-47 will be playing there next year.

  • http://www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com Tarzan Cooper

    Dutch rich smokes rocks! Matt bonner? Really? TERRENCE WILLIAMS HO! I so strongly hope pop shows bonner the door

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    i’m looking forward to the new NETS dance team. bye bye, Power N’ Motion (seriously that has to be the lamest dance team name in the history of western civilization).

  • Tyquan

    Wow he’s 6’8” I wonder if he played ball?

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Dacre

    The Brooklyn Nets – my money is them to win the playoff “cheeleaders” run next year…

  • Yo

    for LA sneakerheads, PLEASE HELP ME OUT. I’m coming to LA in a few days and I wanna find the illest kicks. PLEASE tell me which stores are the best and where to find em, thanks. it will be much appreciated.

  • Stillballin

    First the Russian beat rocky.. Now they own a NBA team.. What’s next??

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    SLAM needs to track down a pic of Irina Pavlova, the Nets’ new President. I wanna see if Prokhorov really hired her cause of her business acumen, or if she’s just a dime-piece. Either way, I ain’t madatcha.

  • jorge

    According to 60 minutes, he likes to take women with him whenever there’s a party. I bet those cheating NBA players would like to play for this guy.Forget the championships!!
    “Honey, My boss asked me to do it otherwise no more shopping for you”.

  • Dardo

    This guy is awesome! He will be the coolest NBA owner behind MJ! He really did great at the press conference! He seems very intelligent and has some knowledge for basketball. After being asked if he was good at playing basketball, he said he was good but not as good as the upcoming free agents LOL The team should be renamed though once they move, something like the “New York Siberian Tigers” LOL

  • http://www.balloonroom.com Ostep Bender

    The NETS should change their name to -