- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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NEW YORK -- With the deliberation of an important man speaking a second language, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov spoke to an international group of reporters at the Four Seasons in Manhattan on Wednesday morning, where he was asked about his fellow shareholder in the NBA team, the much more off-the-cuff Sean Carter, aka Jay-Z.
"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.
"What I like from Brooklyn is its absolute unique ethnic diversity," Prokhorov said. "It gives a lot of energy. It gives a lot of opportunities, and for me Brooklyn is a really exciting place and I'm looking forward to have more opportunity to meet with the people to speak and know better this place."
Not only will he be getting to know Brooklyn, he will end up being one of its biggest promoters. He hopes to convince the current New Jersey fan base to extend its interest in the team, even as the Nets eventually abandon the state. Prokhorov alluded to Brooklyn's large population of Russian immigrants, who he might attract with an assistant manager or two from his home country.
But Prokhorov is casting a wider net for New York fans, and looking to do it with success on the court. He said the goal this season was the playoffs and, within five years, an NBA title. Despite a salary cap that must seen as an inconvenience to a billionaire, he is looking to snag free agents -- big ones -- who he declined to name.
"I'm pretty sure I can convince the very best of the best that the Nets is the place they need to be," Prokhorov said. "I have my own secret."
He was calculated and cautious, the first Russian owner of an NBA team. Prokhorov is a former player, a 6-foot-8 international man of mystery, who discussed everything from business dealings in authoritarian Zimbabwe and hosting a pickup game between Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
He may sound like Ivan Drago, the villain from "Rocky IV," but Prokhorov's money speaks English perfectly well. He made a knowing reference to the time period his background may evoke.
"My goal is to say Americans, I come in peace," he said.
31mMichael C. Wright