Commentary

The idiot's guide to Russian Mark Cuban

Originally Published: May 21, 2010
By Bill Simmons | ESPN.com

I first thought about jumping on Mikhail Prokhorov's bandwagon while watching his "60 Minutes" profile a few weeks ago, when CBS revealed that the Russian billionaire once paid a production company to make a video of him doing jet-ski stunts. Actually, I wouldn't have believed this until they showed a clip of the 6-foot-7 Prokhorov doing flips and nose dives as rock music blared.

The production value of the video was shockingly and stupefyingly high, raising the questions, "Wait a second, did this guy splurge for a real company to make his jet-ski video? Would this be like Mark Cuban making a Stairmaster video but hiring J.J. Abrams to do it?"

And if he did, who could blame him? Prokhorov is reportedly worth between $13 billion and $18 billion. Maybe that's what you do when you sneeze millions -- you fund elaborately expensive jet-ski videos starring yourself. Intrigued, I journeyed online and found the video. It lasts for one minute, 52 seconds. We get to see his 200-foot yacht, Solemar, in the beginning. We get to see him put on jet-ski gloves. We get to see him jokingly splash a fellow jet skier. We get to see him make 27 spinning jumps, including an upside-down 360 that ends with him yelling "Yeah!!!!!" We even get to see him wipe out once. It's strangely mesmerizing. I watched it three times. And that's when I made the decision: I'm gonna be paying close attention to Mikhail Prokhorov.

Earlier this month, he bought the New Jersey Nets, as well as a majority stake in a Brooklyn complex that promises to be built in time for the 2012-13 season. Prokhorov arrived in America this week to represent the Nets during the 2010 draft lottery -- landing the third pick, and seeming shocked that he didn't win the first. He spent the next day on a whirlwind local media tour full of so many highlights, I found myself wishing there was a Twitter feed that just updated Prokhorov stories. I wanted to know more and more and more about the man I had once affectionately dubbed "Mutant Russian Mark Cuban."

That's when I realized something: I had nearly broken my ankles jumping on the bandwagon. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. Without further ado, an Idiot's Guide to the Mikhail Prokhorov Bandwagon (all quotes from MRMC via various news organizations, including ESPN New York, New York Daily News, "60 Minutes" and Business Week).

Question: You only have written Idiot's Guides on ESPN.com for three things: the Gold Club trial, the NHL lockout and Anucha Browne Sanders' lawsuit against Isiah Thomas. What makes Mutant Russian Mark Cuban so worthy?

Answer: MRMC won me over when I found out that ...

(A) He can't type.

(B) He doesn't have a computer in his office.

(C) He doesn't own a cell phone.

(D) He doesn't have an e-mail address or a Twitter account.

(E) He enjoys writing letters.

(F) Even after taking over the Nets, he plans on living in Russia for most of the year.

(G) He only plans on attending about 10 NBA games a season.

Q: Hold on a second ... he's electronically illiterate and plans on running the Nets from about 10,000 miles away, and you don't think this is going to be a complete disaster?

A: Actually, no. He's a sharp dude. He says things that make sense. For instance ...

MRMC on the NBA salary cap: "You could have all the money in the world, but you have to be smart enough knowing how to spend it. I really try to be on that smart money side. Once you make a serious mistake you can suffer five or six years, and I do my best to avoid serious mistakes."

(Translation: Sorry, Amar'e, Rudy, Joe and Carlos -- you won't be getting a max contract from me this summer. Sorry, Philadelphia, you're not talking me into trading for Elton. And sorry, Washington, I won't be taking Gilbert off your hands.)

MRMC on patience: "My goal is to create a dynasty team, and I'm not in a hurry. We have second year with more free agents coming."

(Translation: Hey, Carmelo! Let's get some drinks!)

MRMC on succeeding in business: "I've never lost my cool. Even in love affairs. If you have Plan B and Plan C, you are all the time relaxed."

(Translation: I won't be bitching about the officials constantly like Cuban does.)

MRMC on hiring a big-name coach like Mike Krzyzewski: "Coach K is a great coach. But I'm looking for an NBA coach."

(Translation: Even though I don't use the Internet, I somehow found out about that disastrous stretch in the late-'90s when everyone overpaid for college coaches and they all sucked.)

MRMC on his vision for the Nets: "[We'll] be the first really global team in the NBA. For me, being the first foreign owner, I want to do my best to invite all the fans for the team all over the world. I think the NBA is worldwide. But other teams [possess a] more local mentality. We are going to create and to build a global franchise to sell all around the world. I think I have a competitive advantage compared to other owners."

(Translation: The other owners want to be local coffee shops. I want to be Starbucks. They will lose. I must break them.)

Q: What would be the benefit of being a global businessman but avoiding the Internet?

A: MRMC explained to "60 Minutes," "I don't use a computer. We have too much information and it's really impossible to filter it."

You know what? He's not necessarily wrong. Do we REALLY need all this information? Like, right now -- you're reading this column and hopefully enjoying it, but ultimately, could you have survived the weekend if you missed it? I say yes. Just about everything online fits that mold -- you have to sift through loads of bad writing and irrelevant information to find the occasional entertaining/funny/interesting thing, and even then, it's not something that's making or breaking your week. Ever been on a vacation and had little-to-no Internet access that week? You survived, right? Maybe the big Russian is on to something.

Q: So why did MRMC settle on the Nets, who just had one of the worst seasons in the history of the NBA?

A: He admitted they weren't his first choice. Prokhorov first sniffed around with the New York Knicks, trying to figure out a scenario in which he could get them, the Rangers ("the ice hockey team" as he called them) and Madison Square Garden. Somewhere along the line, he probably had a meet-and-greet with James Dolan and realized either "There's no way he's selling" or "Wow, I'd much rather keep this loser in the league and buy the New York-area team that directly competes with him." Or maybe both.

MRMC gravitated to the Nets because they were based in the tri-state area, because they were eventually headed to Brooklyn (an area with a sizable Russian base) and because, as Prokhorov explained, "There is only one way to go: up. I like to find cheap assets with problems. It gives me power." Great news for Lindsay Lohan.

Q: Wouldn't someone worth $18 billion have been better off buying into baseball, a sport that doesn't have a salary cap, over joining a sport that depends so much on cap management, financial prudence and lottery luck?

A: Without question. MRMC should have Godfather-offered the Wilpons (for the Mets) or the McCourts (for the Dodgers) -- he could have had a much bigger impact right away. But he appears to be a legitimate basketball fan, dating back to 1989 when he watched his first NBA game (a Celtics game that featured Larry Bird). Back in 1997, he bought Russia's best professional basketball team (CSKA Moscow, which was going bankrupt at the time), changed its financial model (instead of depending on only local players, he spent on foreigners, too) and turned it into an international juggernaut. CSKA Moscow made seven straight Euroleague Final Fours, winning two titles, before Prokhorov relinquished control of the club in 2008. It's also worth mentioning that, other than Michael Jordan, he's the only NBA owner who can dunk. Unless you count the 35,485 times Jerry Buss dunked a playmate in Hef's pool.

Q: He can dunk??? What other quirky things do we need to know about the big Russian?

A: Let's see ... he introduced himself as "Mike" at the NBA Board of Governors meeting in December. He brags about being a night owl and needing only 5-6 hours of sleep. His nickname as a kid was "Giraffe." He's been to America 20 times and that's it. He owns that 200-foot yacht but rarely uses it because it makes him seasick, so he just keeps a model of it in his office. (When Steve Kroft asked where the yacht was, Prokhorov confessed that he didn't know.) He owns his own Gulfstream jet. He enjoys kick-boxing, wind-surfing, skiing, heli-skiing and jet-skiing. He works out two hours a day, explaining, "I am addicted to sport. Without sport, I feel bad." He's lived with his sister (an editor of a literary journal) for most of his adult life; until five years ago, they lived in the same 500-square foot apartment that his parents lived in. His current house, a gated compound about 45 minutes from Moscow, includes a built-in swimming pool, fitness center and a "party room." He once lost a 36 million euro deposit on a Riviera house after he changed his mind on buying it. He loves partying but claims that he's never been drunk or even tasted vodka. He makes a concerted effort to have a "fun" weekend at least once every three weeks. He told "60 Minutes" that, after business and sports, food is his greatest passion, followed by human interaction and women.

Q: Hold on, that sounds funny. He just ranked his five favorite passions: (1) business, (2) sports, (3) food, (4) human interaction and (5) women. This is funny, right?

A: Yes. It's funny.

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.

Q: On a scale of A.C. Green to George Clooney, what kind of bachelor is this guy?

A: By all accounts, it seems as though he exceeds Clooney or comes close. He's proud enough of his game that, on two separate occasions, he brought a "60 Minutes" crew and a Business Week reporter to the Soho Room, a hopping club in Moscow, and had no problem cavorting with upward of 20 women. He told Kroft, "Frankly speaking, I like women. In my heart, I am still teenager. And I am very open and I don't want to hide this." Then explained that he hasn't married yet because he hasn't found a beautiful woman who cooks well enough to please him, adding, "I think women make the same mistake with me all the time. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

(Quick tangent: First, that's an awesome high school yearbook quote. Second, that sounds like an open challenge to every hot, buxom single female chef out there ... assuming that person exists. And third, don't we have the makings of the greatest reality-TV season ever? It could be a cross between "The Bachelor" and a cooking show: Start with 25 eligible ladies, and over the next 10 weeks, MRMC would whittle the number down based on looks, interactions and cooking challenges. How many times do you think one of the girls would hiss about another girl, "She's not here for the right reasons, she doesn't even like cooking!" Like, 30? I demand that this show happens. Come on, ABC. Step it up.)

Q: So the big Russian never married?

A: Well ... we don't know. There's a persistent rumor that MRMC once wagered with a buddy that he'd be married by the time he turned 42. When that birthday approached, he threw a $10 million party in Maldives (an island in the Indian Ocean) and allegedly -- repeat: allegedly -- briefly married a woman, then quickly divorced her after making his buddy pay up. Which, by the way, could easily become one of the greatest chick flick plots ever. (The plot: A Russian multi-billionaire has to marry/divorce someone before he turns 42 to collect on a buddy's wager, so he talks a female friend into doing it, only during their 48-hour quickie marriage at an Indian Ocean island party, sparks fly!) So why do we think this story might be true? Because Prokhorov won't talk about it. And he talks about EVERYTHING.

Q: Speaking of talking, when New York sports radio host Mike Francesa asked Prokhorov about being a playboy, is it true that this led to one of the unintentionally funniest 40 seconds in the history of sports radio?

A: And then some. Here's the transcript:

Mike: "Are you a playboy? They say you're an international playboy. Is that accurate?"

Mikhail: "Hmmmm, it's very difficult to say, my love affairs are just between my office and gym."

(Quick interjection: One of my favorite things about the MRMC era is that English is his second language, making it conceivable that he said, "My love affairs are just between my orifice and you" -- which is what I actually thought he said before my editors listened and overruled me. Which, in a way, makes me love him even more. Name someone else who could conceivably pull off the quote, "My love affairs are just between my orifice and you." I mean, other than Borat.)

Mike: "That's it?"

Mikhail: "Yeah."

Mike: "Nothin' in between?"

Mikhail: "Nothing in between."

Mike: "So do you like this image you have? Of being an international playboy?"

Mikhail: "Uh, I don't hide the fact that I, uh, love women."

Mike: "That's OK, nothin' wrong with that. Ah, makes sense to me -- I do too, except I just love one, nothing wrong with that."

(Really, really awkward laughter. And ... scene!)

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.

Q: All right, let's get to the important stuff -- exactly how did MRMC make his money, how did he keep it, what are his assets and what are the chances that his purchase could eventually lead to the biggest scandal in NBA history and possibly sports history?

A: Tackling those questions one at a time ...

Q: What are his assets?

A: Prokhorov owns sizable chunks of Russia's biggest aluminum producer and Russia's biggest gold mining company; his own media company; two banks and an insurance company; enough real estate that nobody can keep track of everything; and a website called Snob that celebrates rich Russians and their lifestyles. He's the second-wealthiest man in Russia and one of the top-40 wealthiest people in the world. Unfortunately, he doesn't own Crest Whitestrips.

Q: How did he initially become wealthy?

A: When the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late '80s, Prokhorov was attending the Moscow Finance Institute. He made his first wave of money producing ... (wait for it ...) stonewashed jeans, buying a ton of denim (shades of "How to Make It In America"), renting a corner of a laundromat in Moscow, processing the denim there and making incredible profits (14 rubles for every one he spent). After graduating from MFI, he launched a financial conglomerate with Vladimir Potanin in 1992, starting with $10 million in capital (10 percent from them) and succeeding immediately. Once Russia's political/economic infrastructure started to collapse, Potanin/Prokhorov were sitting in the catbird's seat when Boris Yeltsin's government decided to take "loans" from Russian banks in exchange for allowing those banks to "manage" shares in state-run companies.

Why use quotations for "loans" and "manage"? Because this was basically rigged. In 1995, Prokhorov and Potanin won the unofficial "auction" (really, more of a rigged bidding process, kind of like how the Red Sox ended up with Dice-K) with a $170 million "bid" (yeah, right) to "manage" the government's 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel (one of the world's top platinum and copper producers). Only two years later, they bought the stake outright for just $250 million -- like getting the Knicks, Rangers AND Madison Square Garden for that price -- giving them pole position in a company that generated tens of billions over the next few years. And that's how the big Russian became Mutant Russian Mark Cuban.

Q: Wait a second, didn't that whole 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.

Q: How did he keep his wealth?

A: Remember how Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner sold broadcast.com for $5.7 billion of Yahoo! stock in 1999, then the tech bubble burst shortly after? Prokhorov was similarly fortunate with his timing, only his story was 10 times crazier: In January 2007, he was arrested by French police at a ski resort called Courchevel and detained for four days for "suspicion of pimping," which really should have been the name of at least one Snoop Dogg album. No charges were ever filed, and it turned out to be a big misunderstanding -- he had brought a bunch of Russian women (not hookers) to France to party with him and his friends, no different than the American "hostitutes" (aspiring actresses or models brought in by American club promoters to party with whales and celebrities) that frequent Miami and Las Vegas nightclubs and became notorious after the Tiger Woods scandal. They aren't paid (except for expenses); they aren't expected to do anything; they're just along for the ride; and if anything happens, so be it.

The Courchevel scandal enraged Potanin, who demanded that Prokhorov sell his 25 percent Norilsk stake. Prokhorov did so ... but instead of selling it to Potanin, he sold it to another Russian billionaire (Oleg Deripaska) for $7 billion in cash and a 14 percent stake in United Co. Rusal (the largest aluminum producer in the world).

You want to mess with Mutant Russian Mark Cuban?!?!?!? Watch this!

Only eight months later, the global market collapsed and Norilsk shares sank 71 percent. Of course, Prokhorov had already cashed out. According to Business Week, Prokhorov "spent late 2008 and 2009 snapping up distressed assets while fellow Russian businessmen struggled under truckloads of debt. He bought half of Renaissance Capital, one of Russia's largest investment banks, for $500 million in September 2008. He also increased his stake in OAO Polyus Gold, Russia's largest gold producer, before the price of the metal soared more than 50 percent from November 2008 through the end of 2009 as investors worldwide bought it as a safe haven. Prokhorov now owns about 40 percent of Polyus with other investors, a stake valued at $3.7 billion."

And that's how we arrived at that $13 billion to $18 billion estimate. Like always with this stuff, you need a little luck.

Q: Could that luck extend to, say, The LeBron Sweepstakes???

A: I say "no effing way." A 12-win team plus he'd willingly play in Newark for the next two seasons? Come on. It's too ludicrous. Even if MRMC offered LeBron 365-day-a-year use of his 200-foot yacht as well as his own private plane whenever he wanted it ... well, actually ... maybe it's not so ludicrous. But if LeBron decided that -- heading into his eighth NBA season, at age 26 -- it would be a savvy move to waste two valuable years of his prime with an expansion roster for what's been one of the most depressing franchises in the league, we'd have our answer about whether he truly cares about winning titles or not.

(And don't throw the "come on, Jay-Z owns part of the Nets, he can convince LeBron to do it!" argument. Jay-Z owns 1 percent more of the Nets than you do. It's not happening. By the way, Prokhorov, Jay-Z and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg went to breakfast this week for what immediately became known then and forever as "The Single Most Awkward Breakfast Of All Time.")

Q: How do you think MRMC will do running the Nets? Play it out for us.

A: My prediction in three stages ...

Stage No. 1: He will be simultaneously detached and involved, initially turning day-to-day operations over to Rod Thorn, a longtime David Stern crony, and only because Stern almost definitely told him, "I'll approve the sale and push it through, but only if you allow Rod to run the day-to-day operations for the first 2-3 years." On the surface, it was perplexing that MRMC coldly fired GM Kiki Vandeweghe by telling reporters, "He did his job in a very tough season for the team, and his agreement expires in the summer and I wish him well," and yet, he was fine with the 69-year-old Thorn, already the team's president, also taking over as general manager even though Thorn was the same guy who built this mess of a franchise. A little weird, right? But that's what happens when you're an F.O.D. (Friend of David). You have an NBA-related job for life. Just ask Stu Jackson and Jerry Colangelo.

Anyway, it seems like MRMC wants to slowly bring in a few trusted Russian associates and have them learn from Thorn's team, with the ultimate goal of finding a blue-chipper to run everything. As he put it, "I have my business model. It's very simple. I will hire all the best people I can, and I never interfere with the day-to-day business." For now, Thorn will be in charge. And that sentence speaks for itself.

For the first season, I see MRMC making two or three much-ballyhooed in-season trips -- maybe a week per pop, during which he catches a few home games, works the media, gets a few standing O's at games, then heads back to Russia -- and every time he gives an interview, he will push the whole "we're turning the Nets into a global team" mantra. Like this week, when he said, "I think the great metropolitan [area] of New York is a great place for the players. You are part of the global world. If you [want a] good climate, you can play in Miami, but you are not a global player -- even if you have a flat on Fisher Island."

Still, allow me two making-a-splash predictions for this summer. The first: MRMC pounces on Phil Jackson with an absolutely unfathomable offer. How unfathomable? Five years, $85 million. Yeah. That's what I mean. Prokhorov is already on record as saying that he wants an NBA coach. Why not overpay to get one of the greatest ever? How could the Lakers possibly come close to matching that commitment? And why would Jackson say no to finishing his career in the New York area for the most lucrative coaching deal ever, BY FAR? I say the Godfather offer gets made, and I say Jackson takes it.

Second, instead of chewing up Jersey's cap space with overpaid free agents, I bet Prokhorov trades for Andrei Kirilenko -- his former CSKA star, as well as an expiring 2011 contract of $17.82 million -- in a deal that won't cost Jersey anything because Utah (struggling to find money for Carlos Boozer) could easily replace Kirilenko with its lottery pick (No. 8 overall) and a second trade. For the Nets, even if they just rented Kirilenko and picked Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors (the draft's best power forward) at No. 3, that's an intriguing short-term front line (Favors, Kirilenko and Brook Lopez) and they'd maintain flexibility for a run at Carmelo in 2011 and/or have Kirilenko's expiring deal to shop this February. And it would go over big back home for Prokhorov. Win, win and win.

Stage No. 2: The summer of 2011, when MRMC needs to start getting serious. He'll have his trusted people in place by then. He'll have been learning the NBA business for a solid year, enabling him to come to conclusions like, "I like the guy who runs that Oklahoma City team, maybe I will offer their owner $20 million for the chance to hire him away." He'll have cap space (assuming he doesn't blow it this summer, and I don't think he will) and another lottery pick. He'll have the Brooklyn move looming. I think he makes a MAJOR (all caps) run at Carmelo. Just a gut feeling.

Stage No. 3: The summer of 2012 (optimistic) or 2013 (pessimistic), when the Brooklyn move finally happens. And when it does, he will change the team's name, logo and uniforms, even admitting as much this week: "I'm a foreigner, you know. I need your piece of advice [for a new Nets name]. I can put Russian name and nobody knows what it is. I can put the name of a girlfriend and every time I change, I need to change the name of the team."

(Important note: I vote for the Brooklyn Bears. Sounds cool, the logo would be cool, and it has a natural Russian tie-in. Done and done.)

When MRMC vows that "We will turn Knicks fans into Nets fans," I have to say, it's not totally farfetched. What if the Knicks lose out on LeBron and Wade, panic and tie up their cap with unworthy free agents? He could never steal the die-hard, lifelong fans, but he could grab all the casual ones, as well as the ones who only started supporting the Knicks after the 1994 Finals and remember mostly misery and incompetence. I mean, would YOU want to be a Knicks fan? Unless you're a lifer, I think you're up for grabs. Even if you don't fully know it yet.

Q: Let's say Prokhorov pulls this off, turns the Nets into a perennial contender and grabs a slice of the New York basketball pie from Brooklyn. Where would this place him in the pantheon of successful/famous/likable celebrity Russians?

A: Right now, he's probably still trailing Alex Ovechkin and Maria Sharapova, but I think he passed T.A.T.U., Anna Kournikova, Yakov Smirnoff, Evgeni Malkin, the late Yul Brynner, Garry Kasparov and the Russian who disappeared into the woods in that crazy "Sopranos" episode, and as far as I'm concerned, he's in a dead heat with Ivan Drago. (FYI: Over/under on "I must break you" and "If he dies, he dies" jokes I will make in this column during the MRMC's Nets reign has to be 250.5.) He can easily raise his profile to Ovechkin-Sharapova status during this first Nets season -- especially if he keeps buttering up the media like he did this week -- and if he actually steals basketball juice from the Knicks? Now we're talking Tolstoy/Tchaikovsky/Baryshnikov territory. OK, not really. But it would be impressive.

Q: The big question: How does Mark Cuban feel about all of this?

A: You can't help but feel for Cubes, who really created the "Modern Billionaire Businessman Who Saves a Decrepit Sports Franchise & Thinks Outside of the Box" persona, only to be blown out of the water 11 years later by a mysterious foreigner straight from Michael Bay's casting office. Cuban has been suspiciously quiet about Mutant Russian Mark Cuban except for one time: During Tuesday night's lottery, after a riveting short interview with Prokhorov, when I tweeted the following:

"Who else loves Russian Mark Cuban? I'm head over NBA heels for him. The real @mcuban needs to step up his game dramatically."

Just seven minutes later, Cuban tweeted a response: "Often Imitated, Never Duplicated... deal with it @sportsguy33 :)"

In a perfect world, Mikhail Prokhorov would have eventually responded with a third tweet busting on Cuban ... but, of course, he hates the Internet and doesn't use Twitter. Just know that it's on. Our last great Russian-American feud ended with Apollo dying in the ring, Rocky climbing a 25,000-foot mountain in ski boots, the Russians turning on their own guy and rooting for an American, and Rocky's victory speech ending the Cold War.

Twenty-four years later, we might have "Cuban vs. Prokhorov" on our hands. Only this time, in a weird reverse of the "Rocky IV" ending, I find myself kinda sorta maybe rooting for the Russian guy. Who knew? Hey, if I can change, and you can change. ...

Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com and the author of the recent New York Times best-seller "The Book of Basketball." For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sportsguy33.

Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.