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Nyet to Nets in Brooklyn?

Forbes Russia
Forbes Russia

A NetsDaily translation of the full Forbes Russia interview with Mikhail Prokhorov reveals the team plans a name change once it moves to Brooklyn, and that in fact documents seeking approval for the change have been submitted to the NBA. He didn't disclose the name.

In the NetsDaily translation of the interview, provided by a Russian-speaking fan, Prokhorov is asked "What will be the team's name after the move to Brooklyn?" His response: "I can not tell you right now, but the documents are already submitted to the NBA office. The name change will happen in 2012 season."

The Q and A on the name change was not among excerpts released by the Nets last week.

In other news from the interview, Prokhorov described the Nets' off-season acquisitions as "not bad" players who could become "tradeable assets"--unlike Amare Stoudemire; called the 2004 Pistons the Nets' current model; implied he might pursue Andrei Kirilenko when the Russian-born Jazz star becomes a free agent in July; agreed with David Stern on the need for dramatic changes in the collective bargaining agreement; admitted he may not exercise his option to buy up to 20% of Atlantic Yards and said the Nets "must" make the playoffs this season.

The full transcript, provided by "Ast", follows:

Q: When did you first think of buying an NBA club?
A: Our dreams began in 2003-2004 in the "kitchen talks" - it's cool to own an NBA club. They became real when we heard rumors that Cablevision, owner of MSG, Knicks and Rangers, was in dire financial strains. Some of our own financial bankers said that Cablevision will soon fall apart, and there will be a possibility of purchasing it.

Q: How did the Nets deal came about:
A: The same people told us. Called and said that there's availability of purchasing a club that's moving from New Jersey to New York. After that, (Bruce) Ratner visited Moscow. We talked with him about a deal.

Q: Did you get any other offers?
A: Understand that when you live in Moscow, you want a club that's located in a similar style of city. New York exhibits same energy as Moscow - you feel like you're in the same environment. I did not look at other places.

Q: Give us the details of the deal. There was a supposition that it was the real estate that was your primary target, and the New Jersey Nets was a burden you'd have to absorb.
A: When we were reviewing this project, we envisioned that the team, with right direction, is a business in itself. This is why our idea was to buy the team and enter the development project in parallel. We calculated that we need to own a part of the arena, where the team will play. This is why I own 45% of the Barclays Center. From the point of view of everything else - I have an option to buy 20% of Atlantic Yard project - honestly speaking, we looked at it, but as of it now did not research the option in depth. I do not know if we will exercise the options at this time.

Q: How did you manage to convince the league to (let you) buy the Nets? What's your trump card?
A: There was no trump card. That's an over exaggerated story. I have an absolutely see-through business - everything is sitting on web sites. It's easy to understand what I own. But when a first foreigner comes, obviously the news give greater attention to what happens. Any spoken word has high emotional interest. It's part of a game.

Q: When compared to other North American leagues, the NBA has the smallest number of new teams that win the championship. What can you and your new team offer the league, considering the reputation of Russian businessmen who take out their fat wallets and buy everyone and everything?
A: I told Americans that I came in peace, and I think, they believed me. In reality, I do not agree with their way how the same teams win over and over. The competition is very tough, but just like in any other business, a lot depends on the professionalism of the management. Take for example San Antonio Spurs. It's called the school of Gregg Popovich. They won 4 out of last 12 titles. But most importantly, he created a dynasty of managers and coaches. By the way, our coach that we hired also went through the Popovich school. Here is a blend of several factors. First, I think, we have the right strategy - we're the second team in New York. It's a huge metropolis - 26 million people. It's a huge amount of tourists. We're already very lucky that we got a team that's soon moving to New York. Basketball teams historically capitalize well. I am hoping that what I bought for $200M will be worth more than $1B in 5 years. We entered this deal in the precisely right time.

Second - you absolutely need professional management, from front office to the coaching staff. We have different variations. We simply need to find the best people and let them work. The goals we set previously do not change: Next season we must get into the playoffs.

Q: Are you not afraid of always following the Knicks' footsteps, just like it's happening in LA with Clippers and Lakers?
A: I think that the circumstances in Los Angeles are greatly different from the circumstances in New York. Brooklyn, say Americans, is its own separate country. It's the center of immigration. They have unique energy. Many millions of people who now reside in the USA went through Brooklyn. When I was in various cities, people came up to me and said: "We are Brooklynites, give us the Nets and we will cheer for them". I think that Nets have a unique chance of becoming an All-American team because many people went through Brooklyn. No other team has a fan club outside of their own state. I think we will be the first ones who will try to create fans across America. It will be a unique concept - a whole country of fans. In the first stage, we will be opening fan clubs in nearby states. This will be right and will strongly position the team.

Q: What will be the team's name after the move to Brooklyn?
A: I can not tell you right now, but the documents are already submitted to the NBA office. The name change will happen in 2012 season.

Q: How are you planning on financing the team?
A: The structure of the deal is that prior to the move to Brooklyn, we are planning a certain deficit - it's built into the deal. From the moment the team moves to Brooklyn, it will make money.

Q: How much income will it generate in 2 years?
A: About $20 million, that's a conservative estimate.

Q: Are you planning on going beyond the luxury tax line?
A: These are two different concepts - team generating money and whether or not I'm paying luxury tax. Many things can change with the new CBA. But am I not expecting to go over the cap.

Q: How did you choose the head coach?
A: We had several candidates, but we decided that Avery was the best one. First, he has the highest winning percentage in history of the NBA. Second, he's very hungry for big wins. We saw eye-to-eye with him there. Another important thing - because we have so many young players, we needed a "coaching coach", a coach who knew could develop young players into the next level. Avery is that coach.

Q: Legendary coach Phil Jackson, when asked about his jobs, said that the Nets may be an interesting project for him...
A: ... and that he really wants to drink some vodka with me. But I don't drink vodka, that where the problem is. Maybe that's why it didn't happen. By the way, it's another stereotype - if you're Russian, you're a drunk. We will be breaking the stereotypes.

Q: What stereotypes have you experienced from the league?
A: Don't know. I'm comfortable, never had a problem.

Q: For you, is this strictly a business project, or also an image [reputation]?
A: When you're talking about the business of sport, you're always mixing in some passion and love. This is exactly why you need to be extremely accurate, so your passion for basketball does not outweigh your business objectives. This depends on my own balance of interests. Here I will be judging myself very harshly.

Q: What is your strategy for building a championship team?
A: You can become a champion quickly - that's our plan A, or you can build one gradually, that's our plan B. Plan A implies getting one or two superstars - Lebron, Wade and/or Bosh. Also, from all the players who became agents, we were only interested in them. We started realizing this strategy early - clearing salaries. But even on July 3, I had an understanding that we needed to go for plan B - slowly, through five years of building a new team. In the current stage of the plan, we're taking "not bad" players, whom we can later trade. For example, someone like Amare Stoudemire, who went to play for the Knicks, would be very difficult to trade later - he makes $17 million. We want flexibility - we want strong players, but those that you can call "tradeable assets". This is why right now we're calmly executing our five-year plan. If we just needed a team that was one of the best five, the strategy would have been much simpler, but we wanted a championship team.

A good example - Detroit Pistons, 2004 champs. If you look at it, the team had no stars, but you had a star team. Our plan B resembles this model most closely. When we do not have extremely high salaries, but the players are matched well and is very deep, with a great bench.

Q: Yes, but every team in the league probably has this plan. What makes you think that you will succeed?
A: Why would you start it if you think it won't work?

Q: Detroit Pistons played a boring game. And a boring game means less fans, smaller TV ratings...
A: You're separating plan A and B. I do not have walls between the two models. In plan B, we grow megastars, and they start to develop the team by plan A. One does not exclude the other. When you're working in show business, of course you need stars. But everything is diffrent in a way. You can sell one star, or you can sell several people who are the stars when they are together.

Q: How did your negotiations with Lebron, Bosh and Wade go?
A: The meetings took place in Cleveland and Chicago. I met each player separately. We told each of them our vision. Chris Bosh for example, said our presentation was the most impressive. But when I analyzed their objectives, I understood that for all of them right now, the basketball part is the most important one. Even more so now that have a possible lock-out looming on the horizon. It seems that within these parameters, they wanted to play in Miami more, despite showing serious interest in our presentation.

Q: You're saying James, Bosh and Wade believe there will be a lockout. Do you believe this too?

A: It's difficult for me to tell. But we analyzed the concept of the league. if you look at the business structure of the NBA as a whole, it looks very strong and correct. But if you look at balance of clubs separately, then they all lose between $200-400M, and that can not happen for much longer. It seems to me that current system does not accurately reflect reality. There's definitely something to discuss there.

Q: Did Jay-Z, Lebron's friend and your junior partner, try to help convince Lebron?
A: Jay-Z was with us, in his way. Him and Lebron have a normal friendship. He truly tried to help sell the team. But this is not a Russian or a European market, you have serious competition here. This is why I have higher enthusiasm. In a way, the road to the title does not go through one plan. We even have a "Plan C".

Q: And what does plan C include?
A: That's a secret right now. It's what you call "element of surprise from Russia". But right now we will not be using it, our plan B is successfully moving along.

Q: What did you tell superstars during your presentation?
A: We made a detailed presentation, starting with how the club will develop in the global economy to strictly basketball themes. We are planning on making the Nets the first global brand, using that I'm the first foreign owner of an NBA club. We want to create the same world wide fan clubs that exist for Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Q: Not really clear why I, who am in Russia, should cheer for New Jersey Nets?
A: Do you know what percent of people at stadiums are die-hard sports fans? 12% versus 88%. All others come there because it's cool and fun. Our objective is to attract this 88% - others will be there no matter what. This is why every separate country will sell their own story of the New Jersey Nets. If the NBA as a whole is a world brand, then right now there is no club in the league which lives by laws of a world brand. But they exist in soccer - Manchester United, Real Madrid. Chelesea is slowly walking the same path. Number of NBA viewers - 2 billion, ssoccers = 4 billion. Despite this, 20 years ago soccer had world-wide brands, and basketball didn't. Why can't the Nets become the first?

Q: In the next year ends the contract of Andrei Kirilenko, the only Russian player in the league. Are you going to ask him to join the team?
A: Let's wait until next year. Andrei is currently making $17 million.

Q: In general, you're aiming to save money when acquiring new players?
A: I'm aiming to pay their fair price.

Q: After your acquisition of an American basketball team, there was a lot of Russian criticism saying that you should have used this money to develop basketball in our own country.
A: One does not hinder the other, it's the other way around. You can hardly say that I have not been patriotic to our [Russian] sports: I've supported and will continue to support it. Besides biathlon, I have a working fund which supports young talented sportsmen. From the point of view of the NBA, we already said that we want to use experience and availability of certain technologies. Out of 100% of sportsmen who finish Russian basketball schools, only 1% end up next to a basketball. The other 99% go "into the sand". If we have a strong student league, there's a high chance that out of that 99% we will find good players. Owning an NBA team will give us a chance to move forward the system of preparing young players from the dead place where it's at now. We're severely lagging behind in developing basketball in youths and teenagers. It's not an accident that besides Kirilenko we do not have any other player who can play in the NBA.

Q: If in 5 years the market cap of the Nets hits $1billion as you expect, but the team does not win a championship and someone offers to buy the team from you, would you agree? Let's say I make you an offer.
A: Then make the offer right now. I'll only accept it right now.