Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is spending more than $180 million on the Nets’ payroll and luxury tax this season. The team is off to a 3-8 start. | Getty Images
Updated: November 23, 2013 3:53PM
Sure, the most interesting man in the world is the Dos Equis guy. But the second-most interesting man in the world is a 6-8 globetrotting Russian playboy millionaire with pursuits in metals, gold, mining, denim, yachting, politics and the 24-second shot clock.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is a cross between Mark Cuban, George Steinbrenner and Richard Branson.
The second-most interesting man in the world, who bought the Nets from Bruce Ratner in May 2010, has:
◆ The most interesting arena.
◆ The most interesting roster.
◆ The most interesting payroll.
Before we get to any of that, it must be noted that Prokhorov, 48, ran as an independent candidate in the 2012 Russian presidential election, finishing third with 7.9 percent of the vote. Which makes Prokhorov a 21st-century version of George Wallace, John B. Anderson and Ross Perot.
(If you buy the Nets, you are a dreamer. If you run against Vladimir Putin, you are an impossible dreamer.)
When he bought the Nets, Prokhorov vowed to make them NBA champions within five years. Like a politician, he’s probably making a promise he can’t keep. His new catchphrase for the Nets is, ‘‘We’re aiming for amazing,’’ which, of course, sounds better than, ‘‘We’re aiming for 45-37.’’
Prokhorov inherited the then-under construction Barclays Center — it’s always nice when the public subsidizes a new arena for the 58th-richest man in the world — and the building immediately was hailed as the savior of Brooklyn, which, unbeknownst to many of its residents, had been in steady decline since the Dodgers left town in 1958.
(By the way, the construction of the arena — challenged unsuccessfully several times in court — was a case of moneyed interests once again plowing over unmoneyed interests, with the unmoneyed once again picking up a large part of the cost of the business. Or, as Prokhorov might eloquently state, ‘‘It’s good to be in America.’’)
Armed with a personal fortune and the largesse of the community, Prokhorov decided to gather a lineup of All-Stars. The Nets’ starting five this season of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez has a combined 35 All-Star game appearances, with 10-time All-Star Jason Kidd the team’s first-year coach.
At the moment, all that star power has led to a 3-9 record, which proves the old adage that you can lead a stable of stud horses to water, but you can’t make ’em hit an open jump shot.
Naturally, the price of assembling a super team — albeit, a flawed one — is NBA-astronomical. The Nets easily have the top payroll this season at $101 million.
(The highest-paid Nets player is Johnson at $21.5 million. I’ll be honest with you: Even if Johnson juggled a baby, a bowling ball and a steak knife at halftime and singlehandedly stopped global warming, he’s not putting one additional fan into the stands.)
The $101 million payroll also triggered a league-record luxury-tax bill of $80 million-plus, putting the Nets’ total tab at more than $180 million. The luxury tax is designed to punish the biggest spenders; it’s in place to discourage someone such as Prokhorov from emptying his fat wallet.
(Incidentally, I’ve always wondered where the luxury tax goes. As it turns out, half the luxury bill is redistributed to the teams below the tax line, and the rest goes to the NBA’s revenue-sharing pool, with a small amount set aside to re-carpet David Stern’s office, which seems preposterous to me because he’s retiring in February and you know incoming commissioner Adam Silver is going to want to redecorate.)
Anyway, Prokhorov — worth a reported $13 billion — doesn’t mind the extra $80 million in luxury taxes, but he has backed off his original claim that if the Nets don’t win a title within five years, he would get married. He now says that was a joke.
I think the second-most interesting man in the world realized marriage was one luxury tax he didn’t want to pay.
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Pay the man, Shirley.
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