Connect to share and comment

The Nets' likely new owner is lucky and tall

Learn more about Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's richest man and future owner of the New Jersey Nets.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov listens to a question during a news conference in Moscow, May 31, 2007. Prokhorov just signed a preliminary deal that gives him an 80-percent share of the New Jersey Nets. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

MOSCOW, Russia — Mikhail Prokhorov is possibly Russia’s tallest man. He’s definitely its richest. A household name in Moscow, he is now exporting his fame abroad, after signing a provisional deal on Wednesday to buy a majority stake in the New Jersey Jets.

The deal will see Prokhorov investing $200 million in exchange for an 80 percent stake in the basketball team and a 45 percent stake in the Barclays Center, due to be built in Brooklyn to house the team after its move to the borough.

The move will likely come as a shock to most Americans. The oligarchs have so far kept their luxury sports buys to European shores, with Roman Abramovich scooping up U.K. football club Chelsea in 2003 and Alisher Usmanov, a controversial Uzbek mining tycoon, buying into Arsenal, another U.K. football club, in 2007.

But basketball has always been Prokhorov’s game. Considering his height — at 6’7” he stands high above his stocky compatriots — that comes as little surprise. Prokhorov has said he will become “the only NBA owner who can dunk,” an unnamed executive who has spoken with him told The New York Times.

Many are now touting his experience: For several years Prokhorov helped fund CSKA, one of Moscow’s premier basketball teams, possibly in anticipation of what he himself hinted would be an involved role in the Nets’ future. This is not just an investment to him. “We are interested in the project only if we can use the techniques of the NBA for the systematic development of basketball in Russia,” Prokhorov wrote on his blog on Tuesday, explaining his interest in the deal.

So the players may want to brush up on their Russian.

And Americans may want to brush up on their oligarch knowledge. Who is Mikhail Prokhorov?

By all accounts, he is a lucky man. But that is only something that can be said with hindsight.

In 2007, it appeared that Prokhorov’s empire was crumbling. He had been one of the quieter oligarchs, confining himself to the straightforward task of growing Norilsk Nickel, the mining giant he co-owned with fellow oligarch Vladimir Potanin.

Then came the New Year holiday, and no one likes a good New Year’s party like a Russian, and no one knows how to party quite like a Russian oligarch. Prokhorov and a few friends took off for the ski slopes of Courchevel, in the French Alps. A good time was had by all until French police swooped in and arrested 25 people, including Prokhorov and several women, on charges of running a prostitution ring.