Irina Pavlova, the New York face of the Nets’ Russian ownership, is leaving the organization after seven years. Pavlova will step down from her role as president of Mikhail Prokhorov’s ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, the holding company for the Nets and Barclays Center.
Pavlova, 46, is leaving of her own accord. Her plans have been in the works for months. Her last day is scheduled for June.
With her effervescent personality and quick wit, Pavlova was much more than a senior executive in Prokhorov’s front office. She was not just the New York face, but the friendly face of what was often a distant ownership. She worked on issues like construction of Barclays Center and design of HSS Training Center as well as helping put Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson in their new jobs and, most of all, connecting with the team’s fanbase.
In 2012, it was Pavlova who rescued two fans from Belfast and Sydney stranded by Hurricane Sandy before opening night at Barclays, helping them get to Brooklyn, arranging return trips home, even introducing them to Mikhail Prokhorov in his suite ... and wanting no publicity for it.
It was Pavlova who worked with the Brooklyn Brigade, Brooklyn’s first fan club, easing the way for them to set up shop, making connections with the front office and institutionalizing their operation.
In 2014, it was Pavlova who arranged for the release of superfan Jeffrey Gamblero from over-eager (at best) Garden security guards who had carried him from his seat, his prosthetic leg dangling. She flashed her ownership credentials to get him freed. And she was there as well to honor him after his tragic death.
She also was given the heady job of entertaining the team’s most celebrated fans, whether it was Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, or Paul McCartney. She did well with that, too.
The highest ranking woman in the Nets organization —and one of the few women who have ever sat on the NBA Board of Governors— she served as well as a mentor to women seeking advancement in the male bastion of sports. It was no surprise that Kevin Garnett offered her up as a model to his two daughters.
She befriended players from stars like Brook Lopez, a fellow Stanford alum, to role players like Markel Brown, who she recently took on a tour of Moscow — her hometown and where he now plays. She mentored some of the team’s young managers, men and women alike.
Her two biggest successes, more like legacies, were the HSS Training Center and bringing in a new management for basketball operations. Working with a consultant she hired, and with orders from Prokhorov, she visited more than 50 potential sites for a practice facility in the metropolitan area before finally settling on Industry City. She then oversaw the design, the financing, the construction and finally, the opening of HSS Training Center in February 2016. She finally brought the Nets’ move from New Jersey to a close.
At the same time, she honchoed the deliberate hiring process that got the Nets their new general manager and new head coach. Once they were hired, she got them acclimated to Brooklyn. She was also there to help provide whatever they needed.
Pavlova was hired by Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov, a friend since they were teenagers, in the months after Prokhorov agreed to buy the team in September 2009. Pavlova was in many ways the ideal candidate for the job. She was born in New York, the daughter of a Russian translator at the U.N., making her a dual citizen of Russia and the United States. Her education reflected her diverse background as well. She earned bachelors and masters degrees from Moscow State University, specializing in languages, and an M.B.A. from Stanford University.
After being hired —while the Nets were still playing at IZOD, Pavlova quietly attended Nets games the last two months of the 2009-10 season, familiarizing herself with the team's operations before touring the team's facilities in East Rutherford that April as the season came to a close.
"She will work closely with the management structure of the Nets to create all conditions necessary for successful development of the team," Prokhorov said in a press release at the time. Indeed, she was Prokhorov's first management hire. It seems silly now, but Prokhorov had to fight against rumors that Pavlova would have a day-to-day role in basketball operations.
Early on, a lot of what she did was bridging U.S. and Russian management cultures, saying, “I think, at times, it involves translating some cultural communication differences ... My role is to bridge the gap between the management here in the States and the Moscow office. The way I see it is: I’m here to facilitate everything that needs to get done to get us a championship team.”
Although much of her early role was in coordinating the construction of Barclays Center with Prokhorov’s then-partner, Bruce Ratner, she moved into larger and larger jobs, becoming Prokhorov’s representative on the NBA Board of Governors, debating his points and casting his ballot on the business of the NBA. And the business she helped manage succeeded, becoming a $2 billion asset.
In February 2015, she was featured in an ESPN profile, called “The Fatalist.” In one memorable paragraph, the author, Louisa Thomas, captured her style.
Pavlova strides out of the suite, plunging into the rush of the crowd. She walks fast, the red soles of her black Louboutin stilettos flashing. Everywhere there is the sharp air of anticipation, the distant thump of music, the buzz of voices, some close, some directed at her. Irina! Her attention is given freely — to security guards, colleagues, gawking fans; to people speaking Russian, English, Brooklynese. She has a voice that can travel far, a smile that can travel farther. A few people she passes require something a little extra — a soft touch of the forearm, kisses on the cheeks, a little melody in her lilting Russian voice. Even then, she only seems to stop — in reality, she barely slows. This is her charm...
The profile also made it clear there were things she would like to see improved.
“I mean, for me personally, just knowing how much money we spent last year, yeah, I would’ve loved to see more than second round of the playoffs. And I am sure Michael felt the same way.”
As Adam Silver told , “I find her to be very direct ... With a smile on her face, she doesn’t pull punches. She can be sarcastic too. There’s never a doubt where she stands, and therefore where the Nets stand.”
Not everyone appreciated that directness. There were disputes and battles, particularly but not only with the old regime in basketball operations. She did not and does not suffer fools gladly, but her friends know her loyalty has no bounds.
Resolute in everything she does, she even feels it necessary, as part of the job, to read comments from NetsDaily fans (although at one point she asked us to ban her so she wouldn’t be tempted to compulsively do battle with the lesser of them). It’s one way she gauges success. It’s not some antiseptic spreadsheet. It’s raw emotion.
She may see the bricks-and-mortar of Barclays and HSS as her legacy along with the manner in which Marks and Atkinson were hired. But fans will lament her departure because she connected with them and understood their “fandom” at every level. Fans, she says, have an “irrational exuberance” about their team and their players and she understands that, offering reassurance and optimism that it will all work out. (She’s also been known to text an encouraging line to people in basketball operations.)
Whoever replaces her will have a tough job. Few have her smarts or style —and yes, directness— in dealing with billionaires or fans whose favorite shirt says “Nets” on its front and “Lopez” on its back. We wish her only the best.
- Sources: Top Nets adviser to leave organization - Chris Mannix - Yahoo! Sports