When Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, the expectation was that his money would both turn the franchise into a viable contender and lead to a fair amount of bizarre events given his eccentric foreign ways. Neither of those things has come come to pass, unfortunately, with Prokhorov generally taking a hands-off approach. The Nets look like most NBA franchises, hiring a retread general manager like Billy King and overspending for role players. If Deron Williams leaves in free agency this summer, they'll start games in Brooklyn next fall with a whimper, not the intended bang.
It turns out that they might also lose their owner. As we noted in December, Prokhorov has mounted a campaign challenging Vladimir Putin for the Russian presidency, which put the future status of his considerable business holdings into question. Now, he's come out with a pledge that he'll sell everything if elected and donate the profits to charity. From Jake Rudnitsky and Ilya Arkhipov for Bloomberg (via TrueHoop):
Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's third- richest man, said he'll give $17 billion of his $18 billion fortune to charity if he defeats Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and three other candidates to win the presidency next month.
"I'll sell everything, all my assets when I become president and donate almost all of the money to charity," Prokhorov said during a talk show with fellow candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky that was broadcast on state-run television late.
Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the U.S. and stakes in Russian metals companies United Co. Rusal (486) and Polyus Gold International Ltd., said he'd need the remaining $1 billion for personal expenses after life in the Kremlin.
"I'll need something to live on," Prokhorov, 46, said.
Most people would have trouble living on 1/18th of their life savings, but most people don't have $18 billion to play with. That lesser fortune would require a considerable change in lifestyle, of course, though something tells me Prokhorov will figure out a way to live with five Jet Skis instead of his customary 20. Sacrifices must be made for the good of the nation!
Nets fans shouldn't lament their loss just yet, and not just because early returns suggest Prokhorov isn't an essential part of the franchise's future success. Politicians are full of empty campaign promises, for one thing, and it might not even be a good bet that Putin will lose the election, let alone to Prokhorov (you know, because he might rig it). This pledge might only be as valuable as the state-run airwaves it was broadcast on. For all we know, President Prokhorov will end up selling his assets to friends at discounts and taking them back when his term runs out. Something tells me a man who's devoted his adult life to making as much money as possible won't give up his fortune quite so easily.
Then again, if this promise is real, and Prokhorov does in fact win the election, Nets fans will have to adjust to a new reality for the second time in three years. That might not be such a bad thing, if their new expectations become more reasonable. The promise of a brighter future, whether in sports or politics, rarely becomes fact quite so easily as the public may have hoped.
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- Mikhail Prokhorov