RUSSIAN BILLIONAIRE PLANNING TO BRING THE NJ NETS TO NEW YORK IS CONFIDENT HE'LL "MAKE IT THERE" JUST LIKE THE SINATRA SONG SAYS -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
Mikhail Prokhorov Has the World on a String Ever Since a "Miracle"
Involving Eight Party Girls Helped Make Him Probably Russia's Richest Man
Mikhail Prokhorov hopes to give the lowly New Jersey Nets a brand new start of it in old New York and the challenge it poses goes right to the very heart of the Frank Sinatra song, the Russian billionaire tells Steve Kroft. Prokhorov, perhaps Russia's richest man, discusses the Nets, his vast wealth and the surprisingly unusual way he made most of his money in his first American television interview to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday, March 28 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I am real excited to take the worst team of the league and turn it to be the best," says Prokhorov. Asked by Kroft if he really thinks he can pull it off, the 6-foot-8-inch billionaire responds, "I am confident. Do you remember in the Frank Sinatra song, �New York, New York'? If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere," he tells Kroft with a laugh.
Prokhorov has certainly made it outside of the U.S., amassing a fortune estimated at as much as $17 billion. His Moscow team won the European pro-basketball championship some years ago. He's a famous man in Russia, whose fortunes took off amid the collapse of communism, when he and a partner got sweetheart deals from the Russian government, making them and other "oligarchs" who had gotten similar treatment, extremely wealthy. He then became well known in Europe for a headline-making incident involving eight Russian "models" - an incident that ultimately left him Russia's richest man.
The women were flown into France by Prokhorov for a new year's party he was throwing for his friends; the French authorities reacted by detaining Prokhorov under suspicion of promoting prostitution. "It was absolutely a police misunderstanding," says Prokhorov. He was released uncharged, but not before the controversy reached his Russian business partner. The partner, with backing from the Kremlin, convinced Prokhorov that the episode was embarrassing enough that he should sell his stake in a former state-owned nickel mine that had made them both very rich. So he sold his share, worth $10 billion, two months before the international financial crisis sunk the Russian stock market. The shares he had sold lost 80 percent of their value. Other billionaires lost billions, but Prokhorov was sitting on a pile of cash. The deal didn't just make him Russia's richest man, but its luckiest, too.
"It's a part of any business, to be lucky," says Prokhorov about his good fortune. "Miracle happens."
The Nets, on their way to maybe the worst season of any team in NBA history, may need a miracle. Prokhorov will probably get the chance to bring his luck to the team. NBA Commissioner David Stern says there's nothing in Prokhorov's background to preclude his proposed 80-percent ownership in the team. And Stern says the NBA looked hard. "He's a man who passed a very tight security check and nobody has come up with any reason he shouldn't be an NBA owner," says Stern.