Thursday, October 28, 2010

Money cleanses: what's missing from the Times's Prokhorov article (hint: whatever the Nets do, Prokhorov's already won)

So, what's missing from The Playboy and His Power Games, the New York Times Magazine cover story (to be published this Sunday, October 31) on new Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov?

(Updated October 30: The print cover states "An oligarch of our own." Nyet.

The cover line: "The lowly New Jersey Nets score the next best thing to LeBron--Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire who is not shy about anything." The author really didn't read the clip file.)

In increasing importance...

1) Any irony regarding this picture (by David Goldman/AP) of Prokhorov, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Nets minority owner (and convenient prop) Jay-Z.


2) An embarrassing photo of writer Chip Brown with Prokhorov at a nightclub, as with eager 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft last March. Still, Brown's big "gets" include a visit to Prokhorov's house, watching the mogul work out, a nightclub tag-along, and a jet-ski session.

3) Any mention of Atlantic Yards, the project proposed and pursued by his business partner Bruce Ratner, who gets one mention. The Barclays Center arena, of which Prokhorov owns 45% (of the operating company), gets two mentions.

4) The recognition that the Times might disclose the newspaper company's business relationship with Ratner, as recommended by the Public Editor in June 2005.

5) The realization that Prokhorov, like Ratner, might be beneficiary of some sweetheart deals. (They should've checked the Times's clip file.)

6) Any reflection that the National Basketball Association might not have done too thorough a job vetting Prokhorov. (“Mikhail is right up there with the most flamboyant owners the league has ever had,” is the only quote from Commissioner David Stern.)

7) Voices beyond Prokhorov regarding his super-swift path to wealth, getting an inside deal on Norilsk Nickel. Here's a key passage:
I asked Prokhorov last month how, with 15 years of hindsight, he viewed the program that a 1999 article in this magazine said was “almost universally [regarded] as an act of colossal criminality.”

“Was it fair or not fair?” he asked. “Should you keep the profits or not? I can’t really be neutral, of course, but when we bought Norilsk Nickel, and also Sidanko, we met with more than 20 investors public and private. No one wanted to take the risk.
There's a mention of "what critics call 'asset stripping,'" but no one--from a Matt Taibbi, who's called Prokhorov a "gangster," to a more decorous critic--is quoted by name.

Brown also explains how Prokhorov built Norilsk Nickel into a huge success, sold at the right time (thanks to that pesky incident in France), and "to much criticism, reneged on the offering plan to buy out minority shareholders at a specified price when he took control in June 2008 of a major Russian power company called TGK-4."

8) A perspective beyond the conventional. Here's the close of the article:
But there was no denying the weight of all the promises either, the pressure to live up to expectations, the energy it took constantly to project an air of confidence. He once said the desire to be “the man” was at the base of all his aspirations. All that talk of strategy and competitive advantage wouldn’t be worth a damn if the man’s team was the global laughingstock of the league.
“Money doesn’t drive me,” he said. “New ideas, the feeling of team spirit, mean more. To create a team better than any other, that’s what drives me. To find the idea is one thing; to realize the idea is another.” But really, comrade, how hard could it be? The old crew was 12 and 70 last year.
“As soon as we have the 13th victory, we can relax,” he said, and he laughed — but softly.
It's not about Nets' victories. Prokhorov, virtually unknown in America, is on the cover of the Times Magazine. He's already won.

Money changes everything? No, money cleanses everything.

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