Mikhail Prokhorov: The Russian Is Coming

Russian Billionaire Vows To Turn Around N.J. Nets' Fortunes

This story was originally published on March 28, 2010. It was updated on Aug. 19, 2010.

Of all the baubles that could be bought by billionaires, none is more intoxicating than a big time sports franchise. It's the ultimate vanity investment, and some owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas cowboys, and the late George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees became just as famous as their star players. The ranks have included oil men, media moguls, garbage haulers, and a former show girl, not to mention a few egomaniacs and eccentrics.

And now the most exclusive club in America is getting a Russian who owes some of his fame and fortune to a bevy of party girls. We first told you about him last March. His name is Mikhail Prokhorov and at age 45 he's bought the worst team in professional basketball, the new jersey nets. It's not often you get a chance to sit down and talk to a rich Russian, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity.

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"For me, life and business, in particular is a big game," Prokhorov told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft.

If you could afford to do anything, would you do daring stunts on a jet ski and hire a production company to put it to music? Maybe not. But Prokhorov is always looking for a challenge.

Asked if he likes danger, Prokhorov said, "I like to control risk."

By now you have probably guessed that Russia's wealthiest citizen, and largest individual taxpayer is an adrenalin junky; he is also one of the country's most avid sportsmen, a former owner of a Moscow basketball team that won the European championship.

He is also quite tall, 6'8" to be exact. He trains with his personal kickboxing partner, who is also the coach of the Russian national team.

"I am addicted to sport. Without sport, I feel bad. In this case it's some kind of drug," he explained.

Asked how much time he spends daily on his workout, Prokhorov said, "Two hours. Whatever happen, two hours I have my workout."

But when asked if it reduces stress, he told Kroft, "I like to be in stress. ...It's my competitive advantage."

For someone who loves sports, stress and challenges, there is probably no better buy than the New Jersey Nets. For a few hundred million dollars, Prokhorov recently purchased 80 percent of the worst team in the National Basketball Association.

Twenty years ago, a Russian would never have been allowed to buy an American sports franchise, but NBA Commissioner David Stern says it's just one more sign that the world is changing.

"America is really the only place where the question gets asked, 'What about the foreigners?' This is a global sport; our games are televised in 215 countries and in 43 languages. So it was really a natural import of globalization," Stern explained.

It also has something to do with the recession: a number of NBA teams are struggling financially, and Prokhorov has the one thing the league and the Nets need most right now: very deep pockets which come from a far-flung financial empire.

Prokhorov flew us to Siberia to check out Russia's richest gold mining company. He owns almost half of it, plus a big chunk of the world's biggest aluminum producer. There is a media empire, plus two banks, an insurance company, and lots of real estate, including his house which has a built-in swimming pool and of course a fitness center.

He showed us a model of his 200-foot yacht. The real one, he says, makes him seasick.

Asked where the actual boat is right now, Prokhorov admitted, "Really, I don't know."

And we spotted some of his other toys in his home, like a brand new Kalashnikov rifle, designed for the special forces.

It never hurts to have friends in the special forces, and right now Prokhorov has friends everywhere. The night "60 Minutes" and Kroft were invited for dinner, the guest list included a former Russian governor and one of the country's biggest movie stars at a table laden with regional delicacies flown in for the occasion and endless bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild '95.

After business and sports, Prokhorov says food is his favorite passion, followed by human interaction, and beautiful women - and on that last front, he has managed to remain unencumbered

"And frankly speaking, I like women. In my heart I am still teenager. And I am very open and I don't want to hide this," Prokhorov told Kroft, laughing.

"You're a big risk taker, in business and in and in sports, but not with women. Right?" Kroft asked.

"I'm not to blame," he replied. "I think women, they're making the same mistake with me all the time. The way to the man's heart is through his stomach."