Extra Credit: Baby J-School Grad Scores Exclusive With New Nets Owner Mikhail Prokhorov


Mikhail “Party Monster” Prokhorov — the Russian billionaire who now owns the New Jersey Nets — has had quite a tour of New York over the last week. There was the shot of him, Bloomberg, and Jay-Z quite literally breaking bread over breakfast. There was the talk of renaming the team and the plans of moving it to Brooklyn with his “soul mate” Jay-Z. And now there’s this: the revelation that the first real Prokhorov interview didn’t go to the Times, the Journal, the Post, or the Daily News, after the necessary introduction of Prokhorov to New York’s sports fans via WFAN‘s Mike Francesa (which doesn’t count, as it’s a given).

Nah. None of those guys.

As the Observer explains, it went to a 28-year-old guy who graduated J-school three weeks ago, Vinnie Rotondaro.

Mr. Rotondaro said that he received an email about three weeks ago. It was light on details. In the note, he was asked if he would be interested in an exclusive interview with someone really important. It didn’t say who. If he was interested in pursuing this further, he should call this number.

These are the sort of emails that journalists routinely receive and routinely delete. Mr. Rotondaro wisely decided to call. “I was kind of weirded out,” he said. “But they left a number and you might as well call back, right?”

When he called, a handler said that Mr. Prokhorov wanted a Brooklyn blogger to interview him. The handler had read some of his stuff on The Huffington Post and thought Mr. Rotondaro would be perfect. He said Mr. Prokhorov wanted “to meet up with you. Pick your favorite bar or café in Brooklyn.” Before the interview, he was told there would be no restrictions. He could ask anything he wanted, and write anything he wanted.

This is apparently Prokhorov’s strategy as a new owner in the tristate area.

And honestly, it’s kind of great.

Prokhorov is subverting traditional outlets, by

  • Going to a reporter lacking prejudices (also, experience, but still: it’s an interview),
  • Giving him an interview without conditions,
  • And meeting him at a bar on his turf.

It’s smart, it’s shrewd, it’s everything we’ve come to expect sports franchise owners to not do. Even Rotondaro knows (pun unintended) he’s out of his league:

“Basically in my mind it was a good opportunity,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what they were thinking. It was strange. They’re like, ‘We’re passing up the Journal, The Times and ESPN’ and all that stuff. And I was like man, what is this all about? I’m not even that well established, obviously. I’m fresh out of Columbia journalism school. It’s not even like I’m an established Brooklyn blogger.”

But is all the fuss worth it? John Koblin and Irina Aleksander at the Observer call it “good,” and they’re right. Are there any substantial revelations? No. But the interview isn’t a fluff piece, either. One gem, in regards to people Prokhorov has under his employ in Zimbabwe, which the U.S. has sanctions against:

Ultimately, is this about producing a winner? Do you think if you win, the borough’s going to be behind you?

I have only one place. It’s first place.

(Later, Prokhorov said: “But it’s normal. It’s natural. Some people are for the project and some people are against it. We’re human beings. We have the right to make mistakes. We’re allowed to have personal opinions.”)

We certainly are. A sports team with an owner familiar with the concept of Real Talk? Hard not to like. As opposed to, you know, that other guy.