Thursday, May 20, 2010

There's a New Oligarch in Town (And This One Sounds Cool)

By Matthew Futterman

The National Basketball Association's first owner from outside North America got down to business in his own unique style Wednesday. First he had an early-morning meeting with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Then things got interesting.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the new owner of the New Jersey Nets, announced he was dumping his general manager without first telling that general manager about the decision. He said the Nets, winners of 12 games this past season, would make the playoffs next year and win a championship within five. "A little bit of luck, a little bit of money, we go straight to the top," he explained.

He bought a group of reporters breakfast at the pricey Four Seasons Hotel one month after the end of a season in which the franchise downsized across the board. He said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is probably too involved and too outspoken for his own good. (Mr. Cuban declined to comment). He said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't have what his team needs in its next coach.

Then, Mr. Prokhorov cut open his breakfast sausage and raised an even larger question: what the Nets should be called. "Tell me," he asked the dozen reporters around the table, "what do you think of this name?"

The major North American sports leagues have seen their share of colorful owners before. There have been Washington power brokers like former Redskins boss Jack Kent Cooke and forces of nature like Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner. But there has never been anything quite like Mr. Prokhorov, a 45-year-old Russian playboy with an estimated net worth of more than $10 billion.

Read the rest here.

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