Is This Russian Billionaire Ready for Prime Time?
Last night 60 Minutes profiled Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov—the man coming to save your New Jersey Nets! Bloomberg Markets profiles him in next month's issue. Is a grand media coming-out party by a Russian billionaire really a good idea?
60 Minutes' piece was rather non-scandalous overall. Stephanie Baker's Bloomberg Markets profile was a bit more probing. Like any good Russian oligarch, Prokhorov owes his wealth to the business he cannily snapped up as the Russian state crumbled to pieces in the early 90s. He was chairman of Norilsk Nickel before the age of 30, and over time expanded his investments into precious metals, investment banking, and technology. He loves kickboxing. He's 6'7, and he bench-pressed 110 pounds in front of a reporter, ha! He's invested in sports in Russia for years. Now his $200 million bid for control of the flailing Nets is on the verge of being approved. The NBA is the most image-conscious league in professional sports, and Russia's richest man finds it necessary to put a little shine on his reputation in preparation for his US coming-out party.
So! It's time for the hellacious tabloid media to prepare itself to shred his rep to bits. The raw material, we can see, is there. For example: Prokhorov lives a lavish lifestyle—but!
For all his party-going, Prokhorov says he's never been drunk or even tasted vodka. He usually dresses like a gangling teenager in loose-fitting T-shirts and jeans. Until five years ago, when he was already worth billions, he lived with his older sister, Irina, in the 500-square-foot (45-square-meter) Moscow apartment where he grew up with his parents, before they died of successive heart attacks when he was in his mid-20s.
And he still lives with his sister. The New York Post will surely have something pithy to say about that, at some point! (And his sister edits a literary journal. Perhaps we will have something to say as well!) More importantly, Prokhorov, like every Russian billionaire, has certainly done a few shady things in the course of accumulating his fortune. He tries to preemptively short-circuit this line of inquiry with a disclosure:
Asked if he ever paid a bribe, Prokhorov says: "It was 15 years ago, the last time. I need to be frank."
He's being frank! No need to pursue the issue! It's in the past!
Anyone that rich is certainly rich territory for New York's investigative reporters, who will have a great reason to go after Prokhorov's entire history, in detail, once he takes over a sports franchise in the metro area. And unlike American owners, who can at least engage in flag-waving to deflect negative attention, the Russian will have no patriotic shield with which to fend off the more xenophobic tabloids.
Unless he turns the Nets into winners. Then, all will be forgotten.