It looks like Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has reached a deal to buy the floundering New Jersey Nets. What's Prokhorov's story, though? We did some digging, and here are five things you probably don't know about the man who could become the NBA's next owner.
1. He Got His Start in the Jeans Business
Buying an 80% stake in the Nets for an alleged $200 million would put a crunch in most peoples' budgets, but earlier this year Forbes reported that Prokhorov's cash holdings alone might be worth upwards of $5 billion. Unlike many fabulously wealthy men, though, he didn't get any financial help from his family. In fact, he got his start in the jeans business.
Although Prokhorov's parents weren't particularly rich, they were sharp. His mother was the head of a polymer research department at the Moscow Chemicals Institute, and his father also ran a lab. Their son excelled in his studies and attended Moscow State Institute of Finance. After he graduated from college, he got a job at the International Bank for Economic Cooperation in 1989. Prokhorov put his money in an investment vehicle that would only have thrived in the late 80's: an acid-washed jeans company. With the profits from his denim venture, Prokhorov continued to rise up the financial ladder.
2. He Knows His Metals
Although Prokhorov first grew to prominence in the financial sector, he made his serious loot in the mining industry. In 1993 he purchased Norilsk Nickel during the wave of post-Communism privatization and built the Siberian mining company into a natural resources titan. One of his major coups involved investing in specialized Finnish freighters that could move metals around the Arctic without needing icebreakers.
Just how big did Norilsk Nickel get under Prokhorov? In 2005 he spun off all of the company's gold mining assets into a separate company, Polyus Gold. Polyus Gold alone is now worth around $8 billion, and Prokhorov is still chairman of the company's board. He resigned as CEO of Norilsk Nickel in early 2007 and sold his shares in the company for $7.5 billion.
3. He Knows How to Throw a Party
Prokhorov ran afoul of French authorities in 2007 when he hosted a two-week Christmas party for his fellow Russian plutocrats at his chalet in the ski resort Courchevel. This wasn't the normal sort of "Turn down your loud music!" complaint for the cops, though. Police arrested Prokhorov on suspicion of flying prostitutes in from Moscow to service his guests.
A raid on the hotel where many guests were staying resulted in 26 arrests, including Prokhorov and seven beautiful 20-something Russian women. Prokhorov contended that his companions were just friends he had met at Moscow nightclubs. According to Prokhorov, he flew them in for the party and covered all of their expenses, but he didn't expect anything in return other than their company. The billionaire told the police he liked the company of intelligent women and that "to stay young, you have to be surrounded with youth and beauty." When the cops ascertained that none of the women were actually professional call girls or prostitutes, they released everyone without filing charges.
Perhaps the best quote on the whole debacle came from Nicolas Sarkozy, who was a presidential candidate at the time. When told of the charges, Sarkozy quipped, "There's a man who wants to please."
4. He Likes to Win a Bet
A good-looking 44-year-old with a net worth estimated at $9 billion? How could this guy not be Russia's most eligible bachelor? The Russian press hangs on each of Prokhorov's adventures with the young ladies, and he's apparently had quite a few, including reportedly dating supermodel Naomi Campbell.
A truly bizarre story about Prokhorov's love life broke in the spring of 2007. The oligarch was supposedly planning a $10-million wedding on Maldives in which he would marry an unknown woman. This wasn't going to be a storybook wedding, though; Prokhorov was allegedly marrying the woman only to divorce her one week later. Why would he act so erratically? To win a childhood bet. According to the Russian press, Prokhorov had made a bet with a childhood friend—both the stakes of the wager and the friend were unknown—that he would be married before his 42nd birthday. Russian reality TV host and socialite Ksenia Sobchak (pictured), also known as "Russia's Paris Hilton," even claimed that she would be the mysterious bride.
Despite all the fuss in the European press, Prokhorov's birthday passed without a wedding, and the real secret behind Prokhorov's love life remains a mystery.
5. He's a Sports Nut
Prokhorov may see the Nets as a good investment, but he's also the sort of sports fanatic who might be Russia's equivalent of Mark Cuban. Prokhorov is extremely tall—estimates range from 6'6" to 6'9"—and played basketball in his youth. He already owns a piece of CSKA Moscow, one of the top hoops teams in Europe.
He's not just a basketball fan, though. Earlier this summer there were rumors that Prokhorov might try to buy the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and although the team has denied any sale, there are still whispers that Prokhorov may end up in the soccer business as well. Forbes also notes that the oligarch "loves kickboxing."
'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' usually appears on Friday, but we moved it up this week. Read the previous installments here.