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Mikhail Prokhorov, New Nets owner, is smart, lucky, not so scary

Mar 29, 2010, 11:36 AM EDT

The “Mikhail Prokhorov — Get To Know Me” campaign is in full swing.

Last night he was on 60 Minutes towering over Steve Kroft. Next week he will featured in Bloomberg Markets Magazine, May 2010 edition (which we were given an advanced copy to review). Because he’s rich and Russian and we here on this side of the globe know a little about him, there have been some concerns. And some demonizing. Which was undeserved.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far: He’s tall (6’8″), thinks he’s the first owner who can dunk (Michael Jordan may have beat him to it, although my money was always on Jerry Buss), he’s rich because he’s smart and lucky, and he makes deliberate decisions. That last thing — the deliberate decisions part — should make Nets fans very happy.

Oh, there’s the titillating stuff. He owns a $45 million yacht he barely ever is on because he gets seasick easily. He admits to paying bribes in the 1990s (because that was how you had to do business in that Wild West environment). There’s the fact he doesn’t own a cell phone and says he has only been on the Internet three times. When it comes time to break things down he goes the old-school pencil and paper way. But that’s not the heart of the introductions.

The Bloomberg Markets article breaks down how Prokhorov got to be worth the estimated $22.5 billion (yes, with a “b”) he is now. It starts back when he was in school, when Russia was just opening up to the West and there was a craving for all things American. He started a company making stone wash jeans (back when those were cool be seen in — which by the way Wisconsin ended more than a decade ago) and pretty soon he was raking it in and had 300 employees. And by raking it in, we mean he was getting a 14-to-1 return on every ruble invested.

He then got into banking and buying mines. Which was where the luck came in — he was one of the richest men in Russia when he was accused of consorting with and maybe even helping organize prostitutes. Prokhorov denies all this, although the Bloomberg article makes he clear he hangs with the kind of women that will earn him street cred among NBA players. Back to our story: Prokhorov’s mining partners forced him out after this incident, and Prokhorov cashed out. Then the Russian economy and markets tanked. While everyone he used to work with saw their net worth plummet, he was sitting pretty.

Then most recently, he started using that cash to snap up undervalued and distressed assets.

Enter your New Jersey Nets.

Prokhorov is convinced he and the Nets can win. And when he’s been convinced of something he has made it happen. Which should make Nets fans happy — this may ultimately be a vanity purchase, but he is taking is seriously.

And that should be welcomed in the NBA, not demonized.

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