Columbia J-School Grad Scores Exclusive With Nets Owner

Vinnie Rotondaro, a recent graduate of Columbia’s journalism school, has landed a highly sought-after interview with Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the Nets, merely by following up on a random, cryptic email.

The result: a lengthy, funny Q&A in Brooklyn Ink, a Columbia-affiliated blog. (At one point, Prokhorov promises to treat Rotondaro to pizza the next time they hang out.)

The New York Observer reports:

And why did Mr. Prokhorov decide to go with a kid named Vinnie to get the exclusive?

Mr. Prokhorov’s spokesman emailed to say that his client “believes in supporting young journalists and Vinnie just graduated this week from one of country’s most prestigious programs, the Columbia School of Journalism.”

An unconventional move, to be sure. Rotondaro acknowledged to the Observer that he’s “not even that well established.” But Prokhorov is quickly establishing that he’s willing to circumvent the more traditional approach to the New York press. Here’s what The New York Times had to say about his big U.S. media debut, which happened on Wednesday:

He was glib, funny, exceedingly confident and — on the major issues — mostly guarded. He deflected policy questions with one-liners and coy smiles, whether the topic was LeBron James’s free agency, the search for a new coach or the strategy for building a championship team.

ESPN, meanwhile, calls him a “a 6-foot-8 international man of mystery.”

Looks like New York journalists face a savvy, unpredictable sparring partner in Prokhorov. He has a lot to gain from moves like this one; he’s the first NBA owner to ever hail from outside North America, and a planned move of the Nets to Brooklyn (slated for 2012) has sparked controversy. The construction of the Barclays Center, which will serve as the Nets’ new home, is part of the $4.9-billion Atlantic Yards development project that has used eminent domain to displace residents and businesses from a section of Brooklyn around the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush. And then there’s the matter of the Nets’ grim prospects. They lost a franchise-record 70 games this past season, and have only the third pick in the NBA draft lottery.