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Sports Legitimacy

prokrat100509.jpgI’ve already written on this blog that I think it’s great that Mikhail Prokhorov is going to buy the New Jersey Nets NBA team, and invest himself in the success of Brooklyn.  Writing in the Daily News, Alexander Nazaryan raises some interesting perspective on how different Prok’s generation is from his ancestors, who arrived to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn on “rickety Aeroflot planes,” and worked delivering Dominos Pizza despite holding high degrees in physics.  In terms of using sports as a route to legitimacy, I think one could also point to the Kremlin, both with Gazprom’s hockey and soccer efforts, as well as Vladimir Putin’s personal stumping for the KHL.

But a curious new route to legitimacy has opened for the Russian oligarch: buying a foreign sports club. It worked for Roman Abramovich, who purchased the English Chelsea FC in 2003 and has since fashioned it into a rival to Manchester United, soccer’s Yankees. The purchase instantly gave him credibility with a Western audience, and as the team’s success grows, so does Ambramovich’s stature. (…)

But in buying the Nets, Prokhorov could ameliorate the image of the profligate oligarch by reaching out to Brooklyn – and not only to its Russian population. Several prominent African-American community groups support the Nets arena. Prokhorov can recognize them by offering jobs to residents of nearby housing projects and awarding contracts to minority-owned businesses. And he can smooth the feathers of opposition groups by striking a more conciliatory tone than co-owner Bruce Ratner.

These may seem like small gestures, but they would signal that Prokhorov is striving for a legacy beyond the gossip pages.