Should The NBA and Its Fans Fear The Nets New Owner?

Brian Tuohy@@thefixisintuohyCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2009

In a first for America's professional sports leagues, a Russian man by the name of Mikhail Prokhorov is set to purchase the New Jersey Nets.

Prokhorov is supposedly Russia's richest man, worth upwards of $9 billion.

He comes into the league offering gifts:  a potential new stadium to be built in downtown Brooklyn and the ability to further make the NBA a worldwide league.

But should fans and the NBA itself be wary of this man?

There is no doubt that since the Soviet Union's collapse, many of its richest citizens are heavily tied to—if not outright contro—the Russian mafia.  This "red" mafia controls virtually everything in the country, and many of its mafia dons run their business interests as individual kingdoms with little intervention from the once hard-lined government.

Blackmail, bribery, and murder are common business practices in modern Russia.

Prokhorov, though, has never been officially linked with the Russian mob.  That said, even a cursory knowledge of how modern Russian businesses operate should make one wonder how Prokhorov came to be so rich.

If Prokhorov does have some sort of connection to the Russian mob (and to this author, it is quite probable), then those connections may come back to haunt the NBA.

Recent NHL history has proven that mafia figures in Russia can reach across the Pacific and affect players here in the United States.

Because of the money made both on and off the ice in the Russian hockey leagues, mafia figures are known to get their hooks into players at the junior level then ride them throughout their careers.  These players are then subject to their controller's whims.

The Russian mafia members will use their connections to homegrown sports figures as a way of legitimizing themselves to the general public.  But at the same time, they often profit from the illegal gambling and likely game fixing that comes hand-in-hand with such associations.

NHL players have not been immune to similar connections.  Oleg Tverdovsky had his parents kidnapped in Russia while he played in the NHL.  Alexei Zhitnik was beaten close to death for refusing to cave into extortion.  When Alexander Mogilny defected to the U.S., Russians put a contract out for his life.

But perhaps the most famous case of an NHL players too-close-for-comfort ties to a Russian mob figure came in the form of former NHL All-Star Pavel Bure.  Bure was friends with Anzor Kikalishvili, a very rich Russian businessman with political aspirations in his country.  However, Kikalishvili was so closely tied to the Russian mafia, the FBI has since barred him from ever entering the United States again.

What he had Bure do while a member of the NHL is still open to speculation.

With basketball becoming a major sport in Russia and some of their talent seeping into the U.S., will these same sort of connections be exploited?  Especially if a Russian with the pull Prokhorov possesses is running an NBA team?

This may be a deal with the devil the NBA can ill afford to make.