For 48 Hours, an Oligarch Turns on the Charm

prokhorov2 gettyimages For 48 Hours, an Oligarch Turns on the Charm

In a room full of sports-beat reporters, most of them men in or near their 40s, a young female reporter sitting up front asked a Russian billionaire, who was there to talk about a basketball team he had just purchased, about his dining preferences. What were some of his favorite New York restaurants, she wanted to know?

“This is very close to busket-bol,” the Russian billionaire said. (There was laughter.) “Unfortunately, when I am in New York only maximum for two, three days, my working day is full of bizness meeting. Maybe you could recommend me some places I vizeet next time. O.K.?”

“Um, I like Elaine’s,” replied the reporter, who earlier identified herself as being with the New York Post.

“Next time I’m in New York, it is the first place I vizeet,” he said. (More laughter.)

“But, like, what are some of your favorite places to go in New York?” she persisted.

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“In two years, I know what is my favorite place in New York: It is the Nets.”

Mikhail Dmitrievitch Prokhorov walked into the news conference at the Four Seasons in midtown on Wednesday, May 19, looking at first a little startled by the 15 video cameras and 50-plus reporters, and then, realizing he was onstage, fought the delighted smirk that began to spread across his face. The 44-year-old entrepreneur of precious metals (reported net worth: $17.8 billion) moves with a swagger that, dictated by his 6-foot-8 frame, forces his arms to swing and shoulders to cave in order to keep balance. He sat down at a miked table, smoothed his dark blue tie under the oversize gray suit and placed his hands firmly on the table.  

Mr. Prokhorov was in town for 48 hours that, if spent properly and efficiently, would warm the press and thereby the public to the mysterious Russian who just a week prior to his visit was approved as the principal owner of the Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets. There was also, perhaps, some misinformation out there. In March, 60 Minutes aired a segment in which Mr. Prokhorov showed off his Kalashnikov rifles, his bars of solid gold and his dancing nightclub girls to an overwhelmed Steve Kroft.

“He is a macho man in Russia, and that is how macho men show off,” said Janna Bullock, the prominent, Russian-born Manhattan real estate developer. Ms. Bullock and Mr. Prokhorov belong to the same social clubs back in Mocow. “No one told him how to behave, that America is not as aggressive, not as sexual. But it is very endearing, actually. It’s like a child showing off his toys.”