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Nets' Owner Takes In An Evening of Russian Culture

January 19th, 2011

NEWARK, N.J. The Nets hosted An Evening of Russian Culture at the Prudential Center on Wednesday evening, and (Russian) owner Mikhail Prokhorov was in attendance for the occasion, which took place during the night's game against the Utah Jazz.

I didnt know there were so many fans of Russian culture, Prokhorov quipped at a packed pregame press conference. Prokhorov purchased the Nets in September 2009, becoming the first foreign team owner of an NBA franchise. The 45-year-old was born in Moscow and has resided in Russia since.

Wednesdays game also featured Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko. The Russian-born Kirilenko was Utah's first-round pick (No. 24 overall) in 1999. During the 10 years since, the 29-year-old has appeared in one All-Star Game (2004) and earned a reputation as one of the league's better defensive players.

He is the best Russian player, and he is very important in Russia, Prokhorov said. I like him a lot; he's a very good guy. When I was the owner of CSKA Moscow, he was a player on my team.

Kirilenko liked the idea of an NBA team embracing the Russian culture.

"There's a lot of immigrants living in New York and Brooklyn, a huge population, he said. I think it's going to bring the two cultures together and people are going to remember that it's better not to go to war, but make war on the basketball court. That's way better, to shoot the baskets."

Former Atlanta Hawks forward Sergei Bazarevich became the first Russian-born player to enter the league in 1994. Since then, nine have donned NBA uniforms, though Kirilenko and New York Knicks center Timofey Mozgov are the only current players from the country.

Kirilenko wasnt the only top Russian player from his respective sport in attendance. Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin sat near the Nets bench and high-fived Kirilenko as the Jazz forward took the floor. Ovechkins mother, Tatiana – an Olympic gold medalist for the Soviet womens basketball team – was his date.

Other notable Russian-born athletes in the crowd included: Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov, New Jersey Devils left winger Ilya Kovalchuk, New York Rangers prospect Evgeny Grachev, swimming gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg and figure skating gold medalist Viktor Petrenko. Nets investor and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, New York Jets cornerback Drew Coleman, Baltimore Ravens running back/Rutgers alumni Ray Rice and reality TV star Kim Kardashian also took in the game..

As part of the evening, fans at The Rock enjoyed mascot Sly dressed in a traditional Russian outfit, the Nets Dancers performing to Russian music and a Russian public address announcer introducing the teams.

"It's definitely different here, in a good way, said James McConnell, who attends between eight and 10 games a season/ You're seeing a few Kirilenko jerseys and a lot of people in Russian clothing. It's different, unique."

Said Nets fan Gavin Stubbbins: "It was cool, it was a nice addition. There was even a guy down here in a Russian military uniform."

Prokhorov said the Nets' brand has grown tremendously in his native country in the time since he assumed ownership of the organization.

I think now we have a minimum of 2 million fans there, Prokhorov said. Our situation is doing very well. The (Nets) Russian website is very popular among students.

Also popular was the Nets 103-95 win, which capped off the evening and left the NBA's lone Russian owner smiling, long after the festivities had ended.

Additional reporting by Mike Ashmore.

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