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Prokhorov Shines In NBA Debut

Following in the footsteps of Roman Abramovich (Chelsea Football Club), kazillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has joined the ranks of Russian oligarchs who now own Western sports teams.

The "Forbes"-lister, metals magnate, and Jet Ski stud's acquisition of the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets has not been without controversy.

But that doesn't appear to have dampened the enthusiasm of the NBA-sized (6' 8" or 2 meters) Prokhorov, who's that league's first non-North American owner. (And one of the few who can boast Jay-Z as a co-owner.)

Prokhorov opened his debut press conference with humor and poise -- and he appears to have earned a nickname, since the Nets' own site dubbed it a "Proky presser."

Prokhorov displayed a formidable knowledge of the game -- or at least of American basketball's personalities, tossing out references to Michael Jordan's spot in the 1984 draft and the nickname of one of college basketball's most storied coaches, Duke's "Coach K."

After feigning no knowledge of two-time MVP and soon-to-be-free agent LeBron James, Prokhorov vowed that "with a little bit of money and a little bit of luck, we'll go straight to the top." In between hints at his deep pockets and willingness to spend on the franchise, Prokhorov added that "if everything goes as planned, I expect us to be in the playoffs next year, and championship in one year, minimum, and maximum five years."

As any Nets fan can attest, leading his new franchise to the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy is no slam-dunk. That reality was underscored in the Nets' disappointing third-place finish in the draft lottery (open to the seven worst teams in the league). But Prokhorov has said all the right things and garnered heaps of praise. "The New York Times" gushed:

In a broad, brightly lit Manhattan ballroom, the new owner of the N.B.A.’s worst team made an entrance befitting a Hollywood star. Lights flashed, shutters snapped in rapid-fire fashion and cameras rolled.

And later, according to "The New York Times":

A renowned playboy, Prokhorov joked he could name the team after a girlfriend — “And every time I change, I need to change the name of the team,” he said, drawing another round of laughter.

Here's his interview for the NBA's official website.

And here was his message to Nets fans via YouTube:

Prokhorov certainly appears to have performed well enough while backing CSKA Moscow, which boasts one of Russian football's most decorated squads in addition to its hockey and basketball teams.

But folks in New Jersey are already beginning to wonder how immediate his impact will be, given that he'll be "eight time zones away" much of the time.

It will be interesting to see whether he'll stick to hints that he expects to be a low-profile owner -- particularly given the splash that Prokhorov made during this week's coming-out party. When asked whether he'd remain outside the limelight or be an outspoken and conspicuous part of the organization (a la the oft-fined, sideline-stalking Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban), Prokhorov said he'd be "something in between."

"Maybe I keep cool more than [Cuban]," he quipped.

No doubt.

-- Andy Heil

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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