A few months ago, when soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov announced he was running for the Russian presidency, it looked as if he might have to leave the NBA forever. Prokhorov ended up losing the election (or whatever Vladimir Putin is calling those things these days) pretty handily, though, ensuring that his country's loss would be basketball fans' gain. Mikhail is back, and we now know that he'll be part of the league's cast of characters for the foreseeable future.
If a Tuesday media appearance is any indication, Prokhorov will not disappoint. With Nets star Deron Williams a free agent this summer, there's been talk that he'll bolt to his hometown Dallas Mavericks. Prokhorov would not be pleased with that development, and he's prepared to fight Mavs boss Mark Cuban if necessary. From Stefan Bondy for NYDailyNews.com (via SLAM):
Speaking in front of the Barclays Center construction site on Tuesday — his first media appearance since cancelling the Carmelo Anthony trade negotiations last January — Prokhorov issued a playful warning to Cuban for chasing Deron Williams in free agency.
"Let the best man win," Prokhorov said. "If he wins, I will crush him with the kickboxing throwdown."
Although Prokhorov made the comment in jest, he's taking the issue of retaining Williams seriously. The Russian oligarch said he met with Williams on Monday, drawing a conclusion that "we're on the same page." Prokhorov stopped short of saying he's confident Williams will re-sign, however.
Yes, this was a joke, although I still wouldn't want to cross Prokhorov on an issue that's clearly so dear to his wallet. Even if he and Cuban won't actually fight, Prokhorov is sending a message that they'll do everything possible to keep Williams.
So, even though it's a long shot, I'm going to hold out hope that this fight might actually happen, and not just because Cuban has shown that he'll argue with his own players. I see it as a "Rocky IV"-style fight between a big, imposing Russian and a scrappy American, except this time the American is a Jewish, football-styled-basketball-jersey-wearing tech geek from Pittsburgh instead of an inarticulate but sensitive brute from Philadelphia. I also assume there will be some emotional stakes, likely when Prokhorov kills Cuban's friend Walker Texas Ranger (yes, that really happened on national TV) in a supposed exhibition match.
At first, the Moscow crowd won't much like Cuban, but by the end they'll come around. And if he can change, and they change, then certainly everyone can exploit growing foreign markets and turn the NBA into an even more powerful multinational corporation. In the end, there will be enough superstar free agents for everyone.