Prokhorov Becomes Russia’s Sports Ambassador

Forget about the “trust building” of the U.S.-Russia reset.  Forget about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s investment roadshow, or other attempts to kick start a lovefest between the two countries.  Just go straight back to sports diplomacy as the strongest grounds to create a sense of bilateral understanding and interest among the wider public.  While Gazprom, Vladimir Putin, and Roman Abramovich have dabbled in these dark arts, there is no topping billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s gamble on buying the New Jersey Nets NBA franchise, and attempting to resuscitate the Russian market for professional basketball.  [Insert “tall order” joke here].  But if you take a closer look, there is more going on here than just a playboy having fun with a new toy.  From the New York Times:

More important than reforming the professional leagues, Prokhorov said, will be developing amateur programs able to feed them.

Unlike the N.H.L., which has been siphoning off top Russian players since the Soviet Union crumbled, the N.B.A. has not found as rich a talent pool for players here. There are only a few Russian players in the league, including Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko and center Timofey Mozgov, who was signed by the Knicks this summer.

Beyond supporting basketball schools and camps in Russia, Prokhorov will offer internships and training opportunities with the Nets for talented Russian players and coaches, as well as athletic doctors and up-and-coming managers, said Sergei Kushchenko, Prokhorov’s adviser on athletic issues.

“We have the ability through the Nets today to show how a professional team works on the highest level,” Kushchenko said.(…)

Whatever the Nets’ eventual success in finding a home away from home inRussia, the team walked away with a few supporters Sunday. The playerseven persuaded a few disillusioned fans to take another look.

“I was a fan before, though in recent years I haven’t been so happy withthem,” said Dmitri Logunov, 19, who flew in from the central Russiancity of Magnitogorsk to play in the exhibition game. “Now, I think theywill make some progress. Now, I will support them even more.