Sunday, May 30, 2010

New York Magazine suggests that, as notable new New York Russian, Prokhorov (Nets, Snob, etc.) is latter-day Baryshnikov

From New York Magazine's Michael Idov, in an article headlined Klub Prokhorov: The billionaire Nets owner and the creation (his creation, actually) of a new kind of New York Russian, writes:
By becoming the first foreign owner of an NBA team, Prokhorov simultaneously established himself as a major figure in one of the world’s most glamorous businesses (in the world capital of the sport, no less) and a central player in New York’s biggest real-estate drama after ground zero. The scale of his trick didn’t really hit home until a May 19 breakfast photo op with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Jay-Z: a perfectly orchestrated tableau of New York relevance. The only other Russian I can think of who has managed to slip into the city’s cast of notable characters as effortlessly is Mikhail Baryshnikov. But that’s where the comparison ends. Prokhorov is the face of an altogether new kind of Russian—newer, even, than the so-called New Russians of the late nineties—that’s recently been proliferating in town. Through Snob, he’s also the group’s chief benefactor and facilitator, both a member of the tribe and, in a critical sense, its creator.
(Emphasis added)

Well, Idov (who contributes to Prokhorov's magazine) is extrapolating a lot from Prokhorov's two-day visit, and may be looking at the event through rose-colored glasses.

No one spoke publicly at that breakfast, just posed for photos, and ESPN columnist Bill Simmons dubbed it "The Single Most Awkward Breakfast Of All Time."

The Baryshnikov reference is intriguing; though Idov acknowledges that the dancer and the mogul are quite different, he ends up, as noted below, feeling a convergence that may elude others.

Prokhorov as playboy

Idov adds to Prokhorov's reputation as a playboy:
He was known for descending on Moscow’s wildest nightclubs with Gosha Kutsenko, a bald-headed, mildly freakish Russian film star he had befriended, with packs of coltish young things in tow. “It used to be that you go to certain clubs,” recalls one Muscovite, “and if at some moment about fifteen barely legal girls show up all at once, you could tell that Prokhorov is about to stop by.”
Prokhorov and Snob

The most interesting passages concern Prokhorov's publication Snob, soon to launch in New York, which Idov says is less a Slavic Robb Report but more "a thoughtful, moderately smug house organ of the Global Russian community."

(Snob was is an acronym for the Russian words that mean "accomplished, independent, educated, thriving." Idov's a contributor and his wife is on the staff.)

He observes:
But turning a profit—something Snob isn’t likely to do anytime soon—seems far from Prokhorov’s mind (the money expended on Snob, as one New York club member acidly points out, is “just a rounding error” for him). But profit isn’t everything. Prokhorov’s endgame is to buy himself cultural and intellectual credibility on a massive scale and to will into existence, and lead, a group of the globalized world’s Russian-speaking elites.
I thought Prokhorov's endgame was to buy himself--via the Nets--entree to American investment opportunities. But maybe he has multiple endgames.

Selling out, and seeing Misha

Idov's closing paragraph:
Have I sold out to Prokhorov? Sure I have. And not just by joining his club or working for his magazine. Simply by writing these lines, I’m helping him accomplish his trick by promoting the group he’s so bent on creating. But then I think of that picture of Prokhorov with Mayor Bloomberg and Jay-Z, and it brings to mind a similar photo, one that I apparently committed to memory. It’s a seventies shot of Baryshnikov lolling on a Studio 54 couch, sandwiched between Steve Rubell and Mick Jagger. In most respects, Prokhorov and Baryshnikov couldn’t be more different. But seeing the two Russians flanked by such iconic New York figures had the same effect on me. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit—maybe even a little snobby. But both pictures helped make me feel like I belong in New York, like my life, and those of my countrymen, is bigger somehow than it was back home. Isn’t that why we all seem to end up here?
Well, Idov and his Russian-American peers may feel the connection, but others may feel a tad bit of dissonance. Baryshnikov rose through stupendous talent and drive.

Prokhorov as New Yorker

Prokhorov has brains, talent and (clearly) drive, but his vast wealth tracks back significantly to his insider's deal to buy Norilsk Nickel, a process a prominent Russian journalist described to 60 Minutes as "rigged." (Without that deal, he wouldn't have been in a position to make a killing when he sold his shares.)

In buying into the Atlantic Yards project--80% of the Nets and 45% of the arena operating company--Prokhorov also gains from an insider's real estate deal.

Maybe that makes him a certain kind of New Yorker, as well.

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