Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prokhorov's debut continues: caption contest for Bloomberg meeting; team name might change; one-liners charm reporters

In a breakfast with the mayor and a press conference with reporters, new Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov continued his American debut yesterday, with raves from sports reporters impressed by his demeanor and one-liners and unmindful of, oh, things like eminent domain or charges of sanctions-busting in Zimbabwe.

And, as the video from ESPN below shows, Prokhorov has even been schooled to utter a Ratnerian mantra, though surely he will be advised to amend "affordable houses and jobs" to "affordable housing and jobs."

The Bloomberg breakfast

The breakfast with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, development partner Bruce Ratner, and entertainment force (and fractional Nets owner) Jay-Z was a photo op only, so the New York Times invited readers to contribute captions.

Most captions capitalized on the incongruity of the mayor meeting the hip-hop mogul--a photo including Prokhorov (as in the New York Daily News) surely would've generated different cultural quips--but a few, including mine, referenced the project at hand.

“Isn’t it great that no one asks any hard questions about Atlantic Yards?”

— Norman Oder

Hova, You should write a song about eminent domain, give it a good name again.

— D Goldstein

Jay-Z: Ratner would like to have more taxpayer dollars to help fund his already failed complex.

Bloomberg: Anything to help my rich buddies, which is better than giving it to anyone in the public sector epsecially when I can never say no to people like him.

— Tal Barzilai

Mr. Mayor, I really don’t understand why everyone is giving me such a hard time about this eminent domain abuse stuff, and why do they shout about your giving city millions to the project? You kept telling me it was all done with private money! What’s up with that?
— Steve Ettlinger
Name change?

Will the team be called the Brooklyn Nets?

That was the term Forest Ratner promised in a May 2004 flier (right), but Nets CEO Brett Yormark told an interviewer in October 2007 that, while "Brooklyn Nets” is the team's "working title," owners still must "validate that” with some "research in the field."

The prospective new owner, as of last October was doing just that, according to NetsDaily.

Yesterday, Prokhorov told reporters that a name change was possible and on WFAN, Prokhorov played cat-and-mouse with host Mike Francesa. (Much more from NY Mag.)

MF: "Are you going to change the name?"

MP: "It's not easy to comment on rumors."

MF: "Will it stay the Nets?"

MP: "I hope so."

MF: "Do you have another name in mind?"

MP: "For the time being, no."

The Daily News, always ready to salute the Atlantic Yards project, jumped on the bandwagon with an editorial, headlined N-E-T-S, nyet nyet nyet: A great basketball team needs a great new name:
After a 12-70 season in which you don't even manage to win the draft lottery, despite having the most ping pong balls, it's time to cleanse the palate. Start from scratch.

There's a new owner, who is something of a world beater. There's a new arena on the rise. Let it not be haunted by ghosts of seasons past.

Let there be new uniforms, new colors, new stars (Constellation LeBron, perhaps) - and a new name.

Definitely a new name.

Cut down the Nets.

And be reborn.

Winning over Francesa

Francesa, on the surface tougher on Prokhorov than many in the sports press, tweaked the new owner a bit.

MF: "Now I want to break the bad news. The Nets are not a big deal in New York. Are you aware they've never been a big deal in New York?"

MP: "No."

MF: "Can you take the Nets and make them a big deal in this town?"

MP: "I am confident."

MF: "What's the strategy to do that?"

MP: "As soon as you face our new global strategy, you'll be a committed Nets fan."

MF: "If you get me, you'll have really done well."

Prokhorov on video

(Video from ESPN.)

Prokhorov and Brooklyn

ESPN reported on Prokhorov's professed affinity for Jay-Z and Brooklyn:
"In spite of the fact that I'm very far from rap music, we have a lot in common -- we are both self made," Prokhorov said, "and really I am looking forward for hanging out with him."

His flow may have been a little stilted, but Prokhorov is going to be learning a lot about how to speak New York and in particular Brooklyn, where Jay-Z grew up.

When asked if he has been to Brooklyn, Prokhorov mentioned that he was there years ago and, in essence, explained that any international business magnate is probably too busy to visit the outer boroughs on a regular basis. But given that the Nets are attempting to build and move into a new stadium and complex at Atlantic Yards, Prokhorov will be spending a lot of time there as he strives to attend 25 percent of the Nets' home games.
(Emphasis added)

Self-made? Only compared to family ownership in sports, and only in the post-Soviet sense; even 60 Minutes quoted a top Russian business journalist who explained that Prokhorov's opportunity to buy Norilsk Nickel was "rigged."

Checking out AY site

The Post reported that Prokhorov checked out the Atlantic Yards construction site not by ambling to Prospect Heights itself but by visiting Forest City Ratner's corporate redoubt at the Atlantic Center mall across Atlantic Avenue.

The Post reported:
“He seemed thrilled with what he saw and what he sees for the future,” Borough President Marty Markowitz, who accompanied the billionaire, said through a spokesperson...

Markowitz later left “excited and happy over how excited” the new Nets owner is with the franchise heading to Brooklyn.

The Prokhorov charm

Most sports reporters were charmed. The Times sent three, including columnists. In a piece headlined Prokhorov, Charming and Guarded, Talks of a Nets Revival, the Times's Howard Beck reported:
In general, the 44-year-old Prokhorov was more entertaining than forthcoming. He teasingly told reporters that he had offered the coaching job earlier in the day to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Prokhorov explained his reticence this way: “I want to be unpredictable.”
In a blog post headlined A Bit of Borscht From Nets’ New Owner, Times sports business reporter Richard Sandomir, free from any heavy lifting related to Zimbabwe, saluted Prokhorov's shtick.

Times sports columnist George Vecsey, in a column headlined A New Owner Makes a Winning Impression, described Prokhorov as a "self-made rich man with a taste for irony," a worthy alternative to the unpalatable owner of the Knicks.

(Emphasis added)

Daily News columnist Filip Bondy, in a column headlined Mikhail Prokhorov has visions of Nets ruling New York, making James Dolan and Knicks irrelevant:
The new owner of the Nets buys low, sells high. He tells jokes, good ones. He deflects questions about his corporate dealings in Zimbabwe with unflappable self-assurance. He dunks basketballs, instead of strumming dreamily on guitars. He can be cutthroat, too, as he was Wednesday, publicly dismissing Kiki Vandeweghe before beat reporters - even while the poor Nets general manager was talking about the team's future on WFAN.
As for the Zimbabwe issue, Prokhorov was facing the sports press, which has shown little capacity to investigate beyond he-said, she-said.

The Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro reported, in a piece headlined Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov outlines plans for offseason, beyond in meeting with media:
Proof that this is a brave new world: Mikhail Prokhorov has been on the job for only a week, but the oligarch managed to make more news in one hour than Bruce Ratner typically made in one year.

In a brunch with reporters today, the Nets' new owner fired general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, lopped Mike Krzyzewski off his coaching shopping list, revealed his strategy for recruiting LeBron James, and essentially dismissed minority partner Jay-Z as being any part of that process.
Of course, that was part of Ratner's strategy. He didn't want to make news with the team. He wanted to gain control of a "great piece of real estate" in Brooklyn.

Post columnist George Willis was both impressed but skeptical, in a piece headlined Nets' new owner talks a pretty good game:
There's a lot to like about Mikhail Prokhorov. He’s tall and confident, and handsome, at least that was the critique of one female media member who attended his press conference yesterday afternoon at the Four Seasons in midtown Manhattan.

He also carries an air of mystery about him that combined with his Russian accent makes him seem like something out of a James Bond movie. “I come in peace,” he said when told how foreign the idea of a Russian owning an NBA team would have been 20 years ago.

Anyone with billionaire as part of his resume deserves to be taken seriously, but you have to wonder if the new owner of the Nets understands exactly what he has gotten himself into.

...Eventually, we will see if Prokhorov can back up all his talk about playoffs and championships. But history suggests he may have written a check that even a billionaire can’t cash.
Tsar power?

The Daily News reported, in an article headlined New Jersey Nets' Mikhail Prokhorov dines with Mayor Bloomberg and Jay-Z, talks of renaming team:
Mikhail Prokhorov is a man with tsar power.

The new Russian owner of the Nets made a Steinbrenner-esque splash in his New York debut Wednesday, publicly dumping GM Kiki Vandeweghe without sentiment, sorrow or a heads-up to Vandeweghe.
Can we assume future "tsar" moves "without sentiment"?

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