Mikhail Prokhorov: Get To Know the New Jersey Nets' Russian Billionaire

Carson TiggesContributor IMarch 30, 2010

Who is Mikhail Prokhorov?

In short, the Russian billionaire is a self-made entrepreneur climbing all the way to No. 40 on Forbes’ list of the richest men in the world.

Prokhorov built his fortune—estimated anywhere between $9.5-$17 billion—as a leading industrialist in Russia’s precious metal sector.

He is the former owner of Norilsk Nickel and current chairman of Polyus Gold—Russia’s largest gold producer—and president of Onexim Group.

So why is his name in the sports section?

Prokhov has now diversified his investments to include hardwood, instead of just precious metals.

In September 2009, 44-year-old Prokhorov made an offer to buy 80 percent of the controlling interest of the New Jersey Nets, as well as 45 percent ownership of the Barclays Center, an arena currently being built in Brooklyn, New York that figures to be the new home of the Nets beginning in 2012.

Prokhorov will pay all of $1 for his controlling interest of the Nets—what he calls a “symbolic price”—but will assume 80 percent of the team's $210 million debt.

In becoming the NBA’s tallest owner (he stands at  6’7”), he will also agree to pay up to $60 million in operational costs while the team stays in New Jersey, and help the franchise with “cash needs.”

The deal is now just contingent on the NBA Board of Governor’s approval, which is expected to become finalized within the next few months.

But really, who is this guy?

Prokhorov is a self-proclaimed “extremist” and loves kickboxing, jet skiing, and snow skiing.

There are even videos of him being dropped from helicopters and racing down ski slopes.

Obviously, Prokhorov is more than a savvy businessman and hopes to bring the Nets up from the NBA cellar.

When asked if he needed to be first in everything he does, he said, "Well, not everything, but if it’s the subject of a professional interest, or what I am doing in the public part of my life, only first place matters."

And he has already shown this attitude when it comes to basketball.

Prokhorov owned 25 percent of Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow for 13 years, and during that time, turned the franchise into one of the richest and most successful in the league.

CSKA Moscow won two titles under his leadership and was the highest paid team outside the NBA, with a payroll regularly topping $50 million.

Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz—who was brought up through the CSKA Moscow system—is Prokhorov’s best NBA connection.

Kirilenko has said he knows Prokhorov “very well” and expects the Nets to become contenders after he gains control.

But the man isn’t without his flaws.

The Moscow resident is known throughout the world—and more so throughout Russia—for stories of high living.

His extravagant lifestyle is sometimes described more as “colorful,” but he did make headlines in January 2007 for allegedly arranging prostitutes for his guests at an annual two week long Christmas party at the French alpine resort of Courchevel.

He was released four days later without charge, but many are suing the local police over the matter.

With that aside, “Russia’s most eligible bachelor” has survived the NBA’s inspection and league commissioner David Stern has warmly welcomed his decision to buy the Nets.

Prokhorov’s main motive in the acquisition of the Nets is to move the team to Brooklyn, and he has been quoted as saying “no Brooklyn, no deal.” But that scenario is becoming increasingly unlikely to fall through and the bottom line is that the Nets’ fortune will soon be in the Russian’s big hands.

Quite frankly, the 6’7” man has nowhere to go but up in New York.


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