Here’s the dude who could become the most intriguing sports story of 2010, that is “wild child” Russian Oligarch and new NBA team owner Mikhail Prokhorov:
(Prokhorov could leave hip-replaced Mark Cuban in NBA popularity dust)
Honest to god, if I didn’t live in L.A., where the NBA is by far the most popular spectator sport, I would’ve completely stopped following The League years ago. I know I’m not alone, the NBA has plummeted in popularity the past two decades, with the league bordering on irrelevance in many non-NBA markets.
On its surface, the sale of the New Jersey Nets and its arena project to Russian Billionaire Prokhorov is another bad sign for the league, spotlighting its rapidly weakening financial state. The (fire) sale of the Nets and former team owner Bruce Ratner’s once-grand Brooklyn arena project to Prokhorov essentially saved the franchise from financial ruin, but the move to welcome a Russian Oligarch’s money into the league borders on desperation.
No matter how David Stern spins it, this never would’ve happened pre-economic downturn.
Prokhorov’s splurge will be the first in a series of buy-ins in USA-based pro sports leagues from foreign interests - much like what has already happened to the English Premier League. But in the particular case of Prokhorov, I believe his presence will be the best thing that has happened to major pro sports in America in years.
Obviously Prokhorov brings a new level of interest in the NBA to Russia, but his youthful coutenance and astonishingly extravagant lifestyle will most definitely intrigue the U.S. media, starting with New York tabloids.
Many are characterizing Prokhorov as another Mark Cuban, but his wealth dwarfs Cuban’s and his calmly confident demeanor and international jet-set lifestyle couldn’t be more different. From reading about him, he sounds infinitely more interesting than Cuban or any other pro sports mogul (see Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder, Steinbrenners.)
The 6-7 Prokhorov made multiple billions in his late 20s by manipulating mob-plagued, post-communist Russian biz circles. He’s also a sportsman who trafficks in beautiful women, having been (apparently) entrapped in a prostitution ring in France.
Maybe it’s me, but I find Prokhorov’s rise to prominence mildly more interesting than Hank Steinbrenner shoveling horse stables before he was gifted a gig with the Yankees.
The biggest reason Prokhorov could be wildly popular here is his ability to communicate with the American media and public in english. Even if the Nets remain mediocre, he can avoid becoming a punchline by keeping up appearances with the New York tabloids.
And if somehow the Nets start winning, and the Brooklyn building falls into place, he’ll bridge NBA interest back to a very large tract of non-traditional North American sports fans who abandoned the league long ago.