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Going Global ... Via The Lockout

Would we be surprised if the Nets came away from free agency with Nene Hilario of Rio Janiero, Brazil, and Andrei Kirilenko of Moscow, Russia? Not at all. Is it something positive for the Nets' global ambitions? Of course. Are their addresses and passports a big part of their attraction? Generally, no.

Okay, maybe Kirilenko's passport makes him more attractive, as does the fact that he once worked for the boss.

But what may have helped the Nets-as-global franchise as much or more was the experiences of Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar playing and living overseas during the lockout. D-Will now has had a taste, but just a taste, of what it's like to be the global star Mikhail Prokhorov says he can be.

The tributes for Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar as they left their European teams were touching. For Williams, it was the retirement of his No.8 after, by our count, 18 games. For Farmar, it was a well produced farewell video. They were both affected by them, even if very different. One, Besiktas, was more triumphant; the other, Tel Aviv's, more bittersweet. It's not an exaggeration to say that of the 60+ NBA players who went overseas, Williams and Farmar were the most beloved, a word used in both countries to describe two Nets.

"Guess I'll be going home soon," D-Will tweeted. "My time in Istanbul with Besiktas was amazing. Thanks for everything!"

"This has been an experience which changed my life," Farmar said. "I feel like I’m a better person and a better player for this experience."

But it all could become more than that. Their overseas experience, as well as Sundiata Gaines in Georgia, are showing Nets brass that Mikhail Prokhorov's plan to make the Nets a global brand may not be as far-fetched as some (inside and out) might have thought when he boldly predicted he could make a franchise coming off a 12-70 season into a "global franchise".

"We'll be the first really global team in the NBA," said Prokhorov shortly after buying the team in May 2010. "For me, being the first foreign owner, I want to do my best to invite all the fans for the team all over the world. I think the NBA is worldwide. But other teams [possess a] more local mentality. We are going to create and to build a global franchise to sell all around the world. I think I have a competitive advantage compared to other owners."

The irony is, of course, that the lockout promoted this idea. Owners lock out players who go overseas and market their own brand and that of their NBA team to a larger world. Take a look at all of Williams Turkish "friends" on his Facebook page and his Turkish "followers" on Twitter. Don't think the Nets didn't notice. The Nets' new Moscow-based director of international sales, Dmitriy Materanskiy, will be focusing on three markets: Russia, China...and Turkey. Anyone think Turkey was on the list in June? Materanskiy, for his part, is a former CSKA Moscow public address announcer and blogger.

Indeed, before the lockout, the Nets were focused on things like the Brooklyn's connection to the world through the immigrant experience; the team's Russian (European) ownership: their trips to Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing and London; Jay-Z's international street cred; and maybe a now failed marriage, anything that would work for a team best known, if known at all, for its near record setting futility.

Now, they have the brand --and the challenge-- of Deron Williams, star of two continents -- and his backcourt sidekick, Jordan Farmar. Anyone think this isn't a top priority for Team Prokhorov?

Globalization in all its forms certainly an internal priority and has been, for Sergei Kushchenko, the team's new director and Prokhorov's top sports advisor, and Christophe Charlier, the chairman of the board of directors. If things don't meet their standards, they are not hesitant to let you know.

"We're off to a good start," Kushchenko told NetsDaily back in June when asked about globalization. "So far, the Nets have visited Russia, China and England, where they played to a sold-out arena. The team has a Russian website. We have not passed up any opportunities to bring the Nets to a wider audience".

Not that he is satisfied. "There is a lot more to be done, however. I think I have a pretty good sense of what works in Russia and the rest of Europe and I have a lot of ideas about how to tell the story of the Nets to an international audience and grow our fan base. This is one area where I think I can contribute to the efforts already underway".

In April, Charlier spoke of the same thing. "Our view is that we need to differentiate ourselves from the other teams. There's a bit of skepticism still about what we're doing with the Nets, but the real idea behind the globalisation is to offer our players and our organisation a much bigger stage than what any other team is currently focusing on".

As Brett Yormark has said more than once, if the NBA wants someone to go overseas, the Nets will raise their hands. (Still no word on whether the Nets and Magic will play in London in March.)

The benefits of globalization are a recruiting tool, too, Prokhorov and Charlier have said. Prokhorov preached he would create a "global star", then wooed first Carmelo Anthony and then Deron Williams with the idea.

Charlier laid out the plan in depth during an interview with a British sports business magazine in April.

"On any other team you play for, your fanbase is a city or, at most, a state, and in most cases not even a whole state," argued Charlier an American-educated, French banker who works in Moscow. "Not only are we Brooklyn; not only are we New York; but we want fans around the world to think of us as their team - that's why we brought the team to China, we brought the team to Russia and we brought the team to London - and that creates for the players, well, jetlag, but it also creates some amazing sponsorship opportunities.

"They will be able to derive a lot of marketing benefits personally from having a much wider audience follow them, which we think while they're players is important," he added. "But more importantly when their career ends, they will have become a well known personality, worldwide brands in their own right".

"You look at someone like David Beckham, or you look at Anna Kournikova, who had success on the field and on the court, but certainly have much greater visibility and much greater revenue streams coming from their marketing arrangements - much, much more than their sporting performances. That's what we want to offer to our players".

D-Will as Beckham? Interesting.

And it will start at home, in Brooklyn. Prokhorov joked about the difference between New York and Miami as international marketing hubs before "The Decision" when he tried to lure LeBron James to Brooklyn (via New Jersey).

"I think the great metropolitan [area] of New York is a great place for the players. You are part of the global world. If you [want a] good climate, you can play in Miami, but you are not a global player -- even if you have a flat on Fisher Island."

Williams is aware of the plan. After first meeting Prokhorov and his. No. 2, Dmitry Razumov, in San Antonio, he talked about the conversation while awaiting a more formal meeting in London. "We only had a 10-minute chat after the game and he was really tired (having just finished heli-skiing in British Columbia!). I think we will meet here in London for a more substantial meeting, for a global discussion. For me, it is very interesting, the reaction of an All-Star player, what he is feeling about what is going on in the global world."

Prokhorov knows he needs to convince Williams to make a long-term commitment and not just to his Nets, but to his vision of making the Brooklyn Nets into a global brand to rival the Lakers and the world's big soccer clubs. It won't be easy. One major engine in globalization has to be the team's website and traditionally it gets fewer viewers than any other official site in the NBA...and only one NBA team, the Lakers, makes the top 20 of the world's top team sites. The rest are European soccer clubs.

There is a Russian language website, as Kushchenko notes, but its offerings are limited and rarely updated (although a recent article on the "Nets' Experience" which is traveling around Brooklyn was translated into Russian. But that seems mainly geared towards Brighton Beach and the Russian-American community. And truth be told, it's never been as good as the team's now-defunct Chinese language site. Nor is it as good as CSKA Moscow's site, which Kushchenko developed and is in Russian and English; or Besiktas, in Turkish or English, or Maccabi Tel Aviv, in Hebrew and English.

On television, the Nets will be seen across Russia and that is a start, but when Yi Jianlian was on the team, the Nets were seen by tens of millions, may hundreds of million when Yi went up against Yao Ming. Of course, one would think that could e solved by an upgrade to the NBA's web presence. (There was a hint this week that the NBA isn't exactly going along with some of Prokhorov's more aggressive marketing and sales schemes. Irina Pavlova, in charge of Prokhorov's investments in Brooklyn, told Forbes that NBA rules were obstructing Onexim’s global sales plans. There was no further explanation.)

And they will have to win and really, win it all. Then it should all mesh together...Prokhorov's wealth, Williams now international reputation, Yormark's marketing, Kushchenko's experience. The synergies should benefit the players and now just Williams. It should have value for every Net player, whether from Dallas, New York, Rio or Moscow.

Charlier understands it's about both marketing and winning for the players the Nets want to add. In April, he noted, "Don't get me wrong, we still want to win the championship, and quickly, but we want to offer our players a combination of winning and being marketable. Then you can become a Michael Schumacher or a Roger Federer and that's an amazing opportunity for a player."

That, as well as playing with a top ranked point guard for the richest owner in sports and in the world's first billion dollar arena, should help bring in players like Nene or Kirilenko or Dwight Howard. It's a beginning, a serendipitous beginning thanks to the lockout but a beginning nonetheless.