For 48 Hours, an Oligarch Turns on the Charm

The 8 a.m. breakfast was followed by a 10 a.m. brunch with Nets beat reporters and then all reporters at 11:45, and the mandatory interview-for anyone entering the New York sports world-with WFAN’s Mike Francesa. At 4 p.m., he joined Mr. Ratner and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz in the Atlantic Center mall in Brooklyn, overlooking the stadium construction site that would become his “favorite place in New York.” “I asked him just one important thing, that he bring a winning team to Brooklyn,” Mr. Markowitz said. “He looked me in the eye and said he would try his best and was confident he could do so-which sounds to me like the Brooklyn attitude right there!”

Next came an unexpected afternoon meeting with a 28-year-old Brooklyn resident named Vinnie Rotondaro. Vinnie had just graduated from Columbia J-school, with five bylines at a blog called the Brooklyn Ink. “Basically, in my mind, it was a good opportunity,” said Vinnie. “I didn’t know exactly what they were thinking. … They’re like, ‘We’re passing up The Journal, The Times and ESPN,’ and all that stuff. And I was like, ‘Man, what is this all about?’ I’m not even that well established, obviously.”

At the Clover Club in Carroll Gardens, Vinnie and Mr. Prokhorov drank tea and talked for about 40 minutes. Why was Vinnie chosen when all other press requests were denied? “Mikhail is a well-known blogger in Russia,” a spokesperson for Mr. Prokhorov said, referring to the billionaire’s active LiveJournal. (He does not use a computer and writes out his entries by hand.) Also: Mr. Prokhorov wanted to support a young Brooklyn journalist.  

It was, in other words, another brilliant, premeditated publicity move that neatly tied up Mr. Prokhorov’s two-day charm offensive.

“I think he was just an oligarch before, and now he is Mikhail Prokhorov,” said NBA commissioner David Stern, referring to the difference from that 60 Minutes interview to now. “I teased him about the line that he didn’t know where his yacht was, and his machine gun collection, but I think we now know him a little bit better.”

There was still one last stop to make before his departure: the River Café in Brooklyn for a dinner with Mr. Ratner, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and top executives from Ratner Enterprises as well as Mr. Prokhorov’s Onexim Group. In the private dining room, the party of about 16 enjoyed a dinner of royal white sturgeon caviar, Hudson Valley foi gras, filets of almond-crusted red snapper and racks of lamb. An observer said that Mr. Prokhorov and Mr. Ratner sat next to each other and made each other laugh the entire time. It was a night when rain had been predicted but never came. Out on the restaurant’s terrace, Mr. Prokhorov asked to have his picture taken with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. Then, apologizing to the group, Mr. Prokhorov rushed off in his car bound for the airport and boarded a 9 p.m. flight back to Moscow.

ialeksander@observer.com