Until recently I thought the words 'Russian' and 'Billionaire' taken together were a contradiction in terms.

And if someone had said this Russian Billionaire, myth-like in concept akin to the Yeti, would own the New Jersey er, excuse me, New York, er excuse me, Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team I would have choked on my GlenMorangie.

Now I find there really is a Russian billionaire, several in fact, but this one's name is Mikhail Prokhorov. Last year the National Basketball Association approved his purchase of 80 percent of the woebegone Nets and 45 percent of the facility they are scheduled to move into next year, the Barclays Center, a $4.5 billion sports, commercial and residential center in Brooklyn. (How do you L.A. Dodgers like them apples?)

Forbes says he is the third richest man in Russia and the 32nd richest man in the world worth about $18 billion, which isn't bad considering it's only been two decades since the Soviet Union and its accompanying communist government and economic system collapsed. Prokhorov was born in 1965 and he spent his youth living under communism which apparently gave him the opportunity to appreciate the benefits of capitalism.
After graduating from the Moscow Finance Institute Prokhorov made his name in the financial sector and went on to become one of Russia's leading industrialists in the precious metals sector. While that information is interesting, I am far more interested in the fact that he wants to take on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections next year.

Earlier this month Prokhorov announced his intention to run as an independent in the 2012 presidential elections. As Russia's prime minister and former president Putin is the favorite.

Frankly, at first blush, anyone taking on Putin would appear to be a suicide waiting to happen - and there are those who say Putin would be only too willing to help a challenger who developed cold feet. But Prokhorov is obviously nobody's fool and should be well aware of Putin's reputation as a hard-case nationalist who may have been slipping in the polls of late but still has the backing of a majority of Russians who support what he represents.

Putin's party recently took a pretty big hit in the parliamentary elections that opponents say were rigged even with the diminished returns for Putin, but that hasn't altered his status as the favorite candidate ... yet. Putin served two terms as president previously, but Russia operates under a form of term limits that forced him to step aside, and also allows him to run again.

So up steps Mr. Prokhorov to throw a monkey wrench into the works - or appear to give Putin's third term some credibility according to some who keep a close eye on the Russian political scene and don't think Prokhorov is a serious candidate. Nonetheless, Prokhorov actually has many things in common with Putin.

They both are avid sports enthusiasts, including the martial arts. Prokhorov, at 6 feet 8 inches, probably could have played on his own Nets team, which last year narrowly averted the record for the worst losing season in the history of American basketball.

He also likes to jet ski and do acrobatics including back flips which is not exactly an easy maneuver. Prokhorov doesn't make as big a deal of his martial arts training as Putin does his, but he at least is familiar with the concepts.

Prokhorov is considered a major money maker and world traveler, and has his enemies too. At a Christmas party at the French Alpine resort of Courcheval in January 2007, he was arrested for allegedly arranging prostitutes for his guests, which cracked me up when I read about it because I thought prostitution was a national past time in France ... or at least an honored profession.

After four days he was released with no charges being filed and his case was dismissed, with apologies from the French so he says. I wonder how much that cost him?

There are two great things about Prokhorov's candidacy and his ownership of the Nets. He will give us plenty of diversions both at home and abroad in the coming year and we can keep close tabs on the Nets to see if they can possibly drag themselves up from the NBA cellar.
Who knows, maybe the Nets will flourish under his ownership and have a great season. If so, while he is running around Russia doing candidate commercials and shaking voters' hands maybe us football fans can persuade him to approach the NFL about purchasing another embarrassing sports franchise ... the Giants!