Not just because, with Russian oligarch
And not just because, by admitting Russia's richest man to the ranks of NBA owners, Stern has re-planted the league's flag in the world's largest country, which right now features only one NBA representative, Utah forward
There's a bigger, better reason. Remember in Beijing, when
That touched off a scan of the global hoops landscape for any club with the cash to poach either of the NBA's two biggest stars. And that search turned up only one result: CSKA Moscow, with its patron, Mr. Prokhorov.
Now he's safely in the fold.
Stern has always had a knack for co-opting any threat on the NBA's horizon. When the paladins of international sport began to fudge their rules on amateurism, Stern engineered a takeover of USA Basketball, thereby seizing new platforms, like the Olympics, on which to sell his stars overseas. When the American Basketball League surfaced in 1996, ready to take up the cause of women's hoops in the aftermath of the Atlanta Games, Stern trumped it with the WNBA.
Now Stern has taken the richest man in Russia and stashed him on his very own Board of Governors.
Who is Prokhorov? I spent a week in Russia last fall, trying to get a handle on the oligarchs' passion for and interest in sport, and never got an interview with him. That's part of the Prokhorov mystique -- people speak of him, not to him.
But a portrait emerged. In the tradition of
Hard as it may be to believe, biathlon is a hugely popular televised sport in Russia, sometimes called "the Russian Formula 1." (Yes, the winters are that bleak.)
If Prokhorov's stewardship of the Nets winds up tracking that of England's Chelsea F.C. by fellow oligarch
The natives may grumble about ownership by some "furriner" -- until Prokhorov's rubles help the Nets (the AP has already used "Nyets" in a lede) challenge for a title.
And Russians will watch him tap dance to prove he hasn't forsaken Mother Russia. As a journalist in Moscow told me Friday morning, "Prokhorov is trying to make this seem like a patriotic move by insisting that, as a condition of the deal, the NBA will have to supply 'technologies' to help develop Russian basketball."
In the interim, all hats off to Stern, who has proven again to be a master.