Skip to main content

Prokhorov: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (and why the team might become the Brooklyn Bridges)

New Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov arrived with a good story--a Russian multi-billionaire with wit, insouciance, and the cash to realize his significant ambitions.

He proceeded this week to get the sports press to lap up more, showing far more public presence--if not exactly candor--than the saturnine, close-mouthed multi-millionaire who owns the Knicks. (Roundup 1, roundup 2.)

So no one asked very hard questions and, if it got a wee bit in that direction, they didn't follow up. The story line is the Russian mogul who'll revive a basketball team. Forget the NBA's opaque vetting process and the inability of the press to suss out the Zimbabwe controversy. Forget the huge footnote that should be added to Prokhorov's claim of being a "self-made" man.

Forget bogus blight and eminent domain, forget the giveaway of naming rights, forget a massive interim surface parking lot next to a historic district. Forget, forget, forget. It's a sports story, globalized.

And laugh at the witty guy ESPN columnist Bill Simmons dubs "Mutant Russian Mark Cuban." (Simmons predicts a name change; scroll down to why I disagree on his pick and expect the Nets to become the Brooklyn Bridges. Prokhorov must decide by October 1.)

And a rookie journalist who luckily snagged a one-on-one interview gets praised for (and celebrates) his exclusive, not scrutinized for his caricature of the Atlantic Yards controversy. Hard to blame him, right? Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes started it.

(Two voices of dissent: Dave D'Alessandro in the Star-Ledger, asserting that Prokhorov "knows less about the NBA than Bruce Ratner did when he showed up" and criticizing "some thicket of inane blather," and Dave Zirin in HuffPost, though he's conclusory about the Zimbabwe issue.)

Telling the story

On May 19, ESPN radio's Seth Everett interviewed Nets CEO Brett Yormark. At about 20 minutes in, Everett got to the meta-story

SE: "The recruitment process. Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be a very confident guy... if he wants [superstar free agent] LeBron James so bad, how does he go out--what kind of recruitment process do the Nets have that perhaps you didn't have maybe three months ago?"

BY: "I don't know if it's recruitment or storytelling. It's no different, really, from what I do every day. We tell a story every day, and you want that story to be as convincing and compelling as possible. Right now, I think, our story is better than anyone else's in the marketplace, for sure, and who knows, maybe even in the NBA."

SE: "What is that story?"

BY: "Just the current story of the total refresh that we're going through, the ownership change, the globalization of the franchise, the interim move to a new state-of-the-art venue in Newark, and then obviously the ultimate move to Brooklyn. All the pieces are coming together and I think fans and the NBA and people around the country are truly taking notice of it. And I think Mr. Prokhorov is going to a do terrific job in communicating that message in a very convincing way to anyone who might want to join his franchise. So I'm very excited about it... People are really not focused on what has been, they're really focused on what's in front of us."

SE: "There are certain moves that can be sound basketball decisions that don't have nearly the sizzle that other moves can have that can transcend the basketball operation... I can imagine that this new era--the need to make a splash beyond the x's and o's."

BY: "Absolutely, I like sizzle. And I think sizzle sells and it's nice to have that, but you need substance behind it. I know 'Michael' Prokhorov and [President/GM] Rod [Thorn] and the entire team are discussing how do they create the right environment for the right people that want to join this franchise... but I can tell you, Seth, the story we have is convincing and compelling. We're off to the best start we've ever had in season ticket sales... It's not just one silver bullet. It's the combination of the changes."

(Note that, while Everett had no problem pronouncing "Mikhail," Yormark stuck to "Michael.")

SE: "This may be a better question for him. He is described as a billionaire playboy.... I found the best label for him.. I think he's Bruce Wayne."

Yormark chuckled with delight.

BY: "I don't know... He's a terrific guy, he's got a great sense of humor. As you get to know him... and the media gets to know him, they're going to love him."

More from Simmons

Simmons, an astute and entertaining sports fan and analyst but not exactly Neil deMause, explains the appeal:
Q: What's your favorite thing about Mutant Russian Mark Cuban?

A: I mean, there's so much to love. But what really kills me: The combination of his stilting, super-cool, super-foreign, measured accent (just fantastic) and his sense of humor (surprisingly good), which leads to him knowing the funny thing to say in English, only it takes him a while to get there, so when he deadpans an extended joke, it's an extra-long deadpan that always starts with an "I'm gonna make a funny" smirk, followed by the stilted delivery, the punch line and then a mini "Beavis & Butthead" laugh. Watch this clip (FYI: you have to sit through a stupid commercial first) to see what I mean. It's sensational.

Here's how he deals with the potential skeletons in Prokhorov's closet:

Q: Wait a second, didn't that whole [getting rich] process sound totally and completely fishy?

A: Absolutely. And we didn't even mention this part: Prokhorov and Potanin assembled their fortune during what was really the Wild Wild West in Russia. Wealthy businessmen were getting killed left and right; the Russian mafia turned into an undeniably potent force; and for anyone left standing in a position of power during this time, you couldn't help but wonder, "Wait a second, are we really supposed to believe that those guys didn't do anything genuinely illegal?"

That murky mid-'90s stretch was the NBA's biggest concern about Prokhorov, as well as the reason his sale took so long to approve. They wanted to make absolutely sure that there wasn't a mid-'90s super-skeleton lurking out there. At All-Star Weekend in Dallas, I asked a connected NBA exec how big Prokhorov's background-check file was, and the exec held his right hand as high as possible and his left hand as low as possible, with the implication being, "It's a pile of papers that's bigger than both of us."

In fairness to Prokhorov, they never found anything. When he was asked about bribing people by the media this week, he was honest: "It was 15 years ago, the last time. I need to be frank." And yes, "15 years ago" would be 1995 ... when Yeltsin's government had its auction for that 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel.

The NBA's vetting was a bit more murky, as suggested in the 60 Minutes piece; the Times noted that the league wouldn't provide details.

Simmons's predictions

Simmons suggests that Prokhorov will spend his dollars to make a couple of big splashes: first, a huge offer to Lakers' coach Phil Jackson. Then an offer to Russian star Andrei Kirilenko. Next summer, Prokhorov will pay for a super-successful general manager and a big free agent.

Then, in the "summer of 2012 (optimistic) or 2013 (pessimistic), when the Brooklyn move finally happens," he'll "change the team's name, logo and uniforms."

Simmons votes for the Brooklyn Bears: " Sounds cool, the logo would be cool, and it has a natural Russian tie-in."

I'd bet Brooklyn Bridges. Why? It fits Prokhorov's global ambitions and it's Brooklyn's best-known icon. So what if it's an inanimate noun: ever heard of the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, and Oklahoma City Thunder?

Some pointers from Simmons

Simmons is mostly admiring, except here:
Q: Other than the jet-ski video, has Prokhorov ever had a moment that threatened to shatter the Unintentional Comedy Scale?

A: I'd vote for the fact he decided it would be a good idea to do this for a "60 Minutes" camera crew. Second place would be this two-minute speech that he released as a video to Nets fans that inadvertently made him sound like a terrorist requesting demands in a bad action movie.

Comments

  1. Noticing New York is dubbing this incessant parade of credulously reported fantastical Prokhorov PR stories: “Just Not So Stories” that try to recast a land grab that is in so many respects“not so just.”

    See: Friday, May 21, 2010, Not So “Just Wright” (Because It Is after All “Not So Just”)

    http://noticingnewyork.blogspot.com/2010/05/not-so-just-wright-because-it-is-after.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Prokhorov is a Made Man -- not a self-made man -- in the Mafia way.
    "My passion is to develop the local community," declairs Prokhorov. But we are already self-developed. Help!
    -- Patti Hagan

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…