For 48 Hours, an Oligarch Turns on the Charm

So here was his chance-his time to show New Yorkers he is not a gangster, but the son of Tamara, a chemical engineer, and Dmitriy, a Soviet Sports Committee boss; a skilled biznessman who could make a losing sports franchise profitable; a man who was interested in busket-bol, not world domination. “Americans, I come in peace,” he joked that day.

To help him with all of these things, he brought along his publicity consultant, Ellen Pinchuk, who works for a Russian PR firm called Mikhailov & Partners; among its many impressive clients are Gazprom, the Maliy Theatre and BMW Group Russia. Less than a year ago, Ms. Pinchuk, who has film “crew” credits on Russian-themed movies like The Saint and Rasputin, was a Moscow-based journalist who wrote for Bloomberg News.

During the press conference, Ms. Pinchuk pursed her lips and picked at her fingers each time her client was asked tough questions: his business dealings in Zimbabwe; the team’s unfortunate record (12-70); will it continue to bleed money ($42.2 million in the recent fiscal year)? By the end, her water glass was empty. Mr. Prokhorov, however, performed expertly, answering each question with a joke and giving the sort of show that kept the reporters busy taking notes. When asked about the team’s global image, for instance, he replied, “If I tell you, I will have to kill you.” When the conference ended, his water glass was as full as when he first sat down.

“I think it let people know that this guy was very much enjoying the experience of being the source of curiosity and intrigue,” New York Times‘ sports reporter Howard Beck to The Observer. “It was like a Hollywood entrance.”

 

MR. PROKHOROV’S TOUR began the previous day with lunch with Jay-Z at the 40/40 Club; the rap mogul and part owner of the Nets has expressed interest in a more prominent role with the team. “Despite the fact that I am very far from rap music, we have a lot in common,” Mr. Prokhorov would say later. “We are both self-made, and I am really looking forward to hanging out with him.”

At 3 p.m., he joined Bruce Ratner at the Barclays Center in midtown to review mock-ups of the Brooklyn Nets arena; in the evening he traveled to Secaucus for the NBA lottery draw; and in the morning he left his midtown hotel for Gracie Mansion, where he joined Jay-Z and Mayor Bloomberg for breakfast. “My goal was to make him a committed fan of the Nets,” Mr. Prokhorov said later when The Observer asked about their conversation.