05.25.10

D’Alessandro: NBA’s Newest Oligarch is “NBA Dumb,” And Everyone Seems Cool With It

Posted in Basketball, Money, Sports Journalism at 1:32 pm by

It’s not necessarily surprising, the combination of gawking curiosity and giddy suck-uppery with which not-so-faintly sketchy oligarch and new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has been greeted in the United States. Business cycles turn and markets crash and our own indigenous plutocrat class dedicates itself to keeping the kobe beef and helicopter industries afloat and discovering new ways to express their disdain for the multitudes below, but the business pages and opinion columnists just keep on with the Capitalist As Hero/Markets As Democracy stuff, seemingly as much out of force of habit as anything else. It’s not just them, either: our mass culture and politics, left and right, reflects this weird consensus this right back at the opinion makers. There’s a sour churning underneath all plutocrat-positive consensus, and I guess the heightened demands for abasement and schadenfreude in the culture reflect that consensus’ tenuousness. But to look at its bright and unified surface, you’d think that we’ve finally found something everyone can agree on when it comes to sticking up for and sucking up to millionaires.

This the result of years of tireless messaging and cheerleading, of course, with a national sense of history so opportunistic and piss-poor that it allows people to turn Thomas Jefferson into John Galt. But wealth-worship, while a product of all that, also seems simpler than that: it’s a reflex, a distinctly American cultural tic, and while it sometimes seems like we’re in the middle of some cosmic beta-test of just how egregiously our plutocrats can screw things up before we turn on them, the plutocrats have to be encouraged by the fact that we apparently haven’t found the bottom yet. So all the things that are disturbing about Prokhorov — the business dealings with brutal nation-destroying autocrat Robert Mugabe head a longer-than-average list — are naturally subsumed by the soft and fawning stuff; it’s easier that way for all involved.

And Prokhorov is indeed interesting, and can be charming — and he’s kind to freelancers, which I obviously appreciate — but there’s a reason why no one knows much more about him than that, and it’s not just because he has so controlled his media availability. It’s because even when he goes in front of microphones and reporters, no one is really keen on asking him questions with unpleasant answers. That’s left to Internet media-critic cranks and spoilsport congressmen. The rest of us, the assumption seems to be, just want to know what it’s like in Monaco, whether he’s sizing up a new boat purchase, and where he gets those suits, because they look just excellent.

No one’s going to confuse Bill Simmons with Greg Palast, obviously — Simmons is way richer, for one thing, and also has a much higher voice and knows more about the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. But it seems meaningful that Simmons made common cause with the keep-the-Sonics-in-Seattle movement but recently anointed Prokhorov — the guy who’s going to uproot another NBA team, and one of a very few humans more outwardly sketchy than Sonics-stealer Clay Bennett — the most interesting guy in the NBA. Simmons did mention the bribery and sketchiness that define Prokhorov’s early business career, but he tucked it all in down around the 5,000-word mark, well after the fun stuff about “cavorting” with Russian models and how much money Prokhorov blows on the regular and Prokhorov’s jet-ski fetish. The Sports Bro knows, as he must, that while you can ice a bro, you should not bum out a bro with depressing, negative libtard stuff like that.

So, yeah: half the commentariat is sucking Prokhorov for his outlandish wealth and the rest is doing it because he’s got more personality than the average billionaire, and we get… the same article, over and over. Everyone’s who’s supposed to be asking questions is just so charisma-drunk and moony-eyed over Prokhorov’s money that they forgot why they were even at the press conference and hey are they bringing out more hors d’oeuvres? But let me belatedly disengage the Dave Zirin Lock on my keyboard here and pose a practical question about Prokhorov that I hadn’t read until today: does this guy know or care anything about basketball, or the NBA? The Newark Star-Ledger’s resident American hero, Dave D’Alessandro actually bothered both to ask the question and answer it. Thusly: “To put it politely, with the possible exception of Sean Williams, the Russian gentleman is as ignorant as anyone we™ve ever encountered that had some connection “ big or small “ to the NBA,” D’Alessandro writes.

When it comes to the NBA “ the game itself, its culture, its people, its place in the American soul “ this guy had about as much knowledge as one can fit in an average thimble. And nobody else seems to give a damn about this, which we find a bit strange.

Put it this way: If we gave him a pop quiz the other day during that media brunch, he would have smiled and charmed and changed the subject, which is understandable.

We did, in fact, ask him how many playoff games he™s watched on TV this spring, he said (reluctantly) œtwo or three. We asked him how many regular season games he watched, he guessed 10. We asked him if he™s ever met any NBA player, he honestly admitted, “No.” He casually mentioned the names of five Nets “ including some guys named œTerry Williams and œYi Player “ and seemed proud of his ability to do that…

Look, we™re not saying he has to master the seven ways to defend screen/roll by training camp. But he™s had nine months to learn the last name of his starting center, and somebody really needs to tell him that it is not œLupus.

The whole article is worth reading, if only for D’Alessandro’s priceless transcription of Prokhorov’s grandiose, filibustering answer to a simple basketball question. Overall, though, it’s so good as to be difficult to excerpt. I give it two Trembling Angry Left-Wing Sports Blogger thumbs-up, and thank commenter JC for the link.

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