Russians irked by bid on Nets

Updated: September 24, 2009, 3:59 PM ET
Associated Press

MOSCOW -- Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov's bid for the New Jersey Nets may be a boon to the troubled basketball team, but some Russian legislators and analysts call it a blow to the nation's sports.

"I can't consider this action as anything other than unpatriotic," Aslambek Aslakhanov, a member of the upper parliament chamber's sports committee, said Thursday, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti. "We also have talented children here, but sports isn't being developed. They're not trying in order for us to return to our former sports ranking of best in the world."

The collapse of the Soviet-era "Big Red Machine" that was a dominating force at the Olympic has rankled many Russians, but the sports prowess has surged in recent years with an array of top tennis players and the recent victory at the world ice hockey championships.

Prokhorov, Russia's richest man, reached a tentative deal Wednesday to acquire 80 percent of the Nets' shares and finance nearly half the cost of building a new arena. Prokhorov, who owns a share in the prominent Russian team CSKA, says he wants the deal partly as a way to get access to the NBA's training methods and educate coaches on how to improve Russian basketball.

But the hundreds of millions of dollars could have been spent in Russia, members of the Russian parliament said.

Viktor Ozerov, another upper-chamber legislator, said Prokhorov is sending his money in the wrong direction.

"I don't deny that Mikhail Prokhorov has put money into developing sports in Russia, but I would have liked all the means he considered possible to have gone to specifically supporting sports in the fatherland," Ozerov was quoted as saying.

The Kremlin hasn't commented on Prokhorov's move, but members of the upper parliament chamber, the Federation Council, commonly reflect the views of the Russian leadership.

Sergei Nechuvilin, who heads the sports management center at the Moscow Financial-Industrial Academy, said that based on other oligarchs' sports ventures, Prokhorov's buying the Nets won't have much impact at home.

"[Roman] Abramovich obtained Chelsea, and that didn't help the development of Russian soccer," he told the news agency.

However, from a purely business standpoint, Prokhorov's move makes more sense than buying a Russian team, Nechuvilin said.

"Any team in the NBA, like the top soccer clubs in Europe, is already well-formed and has a concrete sports product with a concrete audience. ... In buying a Russian club, it has to be understood that for a long period it will be the so-called investment period.

"If you buy a basketball or soccer team [in Russia], it's necessary to build all the sports and commercial infrastructure from scratch," he said.

The 6-foot-6 Prokhorov -- who made his fortune in metals, real estate and insurance -- says he was an avid basketball player in his youth.

The deal, although accepted by the Nets, still faces examination by the NBA before it goes up for a vote by the league's governors.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press