On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee barred Russia from the upcoming Olympics as punishment for a vast, state-sponsored doping operation. The scandal has obviously rocked the Olympic world, but it also seems to have touched the NBA.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the man who blew the whistle on Russia’s systematic doping implicated Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov in sworn testimony. Grigory Rodchenkov, the key source in the IOC’s investigation, claims Prokhorov paid a biathlete who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs millions of rubles (tens of thousands of American dollars) not to disclose the scheme.
Now, this allegation is not exactly bulletproof. Per The Journal, Rodchenkov’s allegation against Prokhorov is confined to a footnote in a larger affidavit, and the damning information is all secondhand. Prokhorov, unsurprisingly, denies any wrongdoing.
Unlike other claims in Rodchenkov’s testimony, many of which are supported by contemporaneous notes in his diary, the accusation that Prokhorov paid off a Russian athlete who tested positive for doping was repeated to Rodchenkov by an intermediary. There is no further evidence to support the accusation, and Prokhorov disputed Rodchenkov’s account on Thursday.
“We categorically deny this story,” a representative for Prokhorov said. “It is based on totally irresponsible hearsay and is complete nonsense.”
When Prokhorov first bought the Nets in 2009, he was hyped as the most interesting man in the NBA. Not only was he third-richest man in Russia, he also seemed to fit the corrupt oligarch archetype that has fascinated Americans since the fall of the Soviet Union. As it turns out, Prokhorov’s Nets teams have been mostly awful, and the owner has avoided major controversy. Eight years later, we’ve finally got some drama, even if it seems unlikely that anything will come of it.