As Russia invades Ukraine, Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has been trying to hand the club over to the trustees of The Chelsea Foundation, in a move that many believe is an attempt to spare the club of sanctions that might be placed on him or the club.
Mikhail Prokhorov had owned the Brooklyn Nets until 2019 when he sold the NBA team and Barclays Center to Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai. According to the New York Post, Prokhorov sold the Nets partly due to pressure from Russian president Vladimir Putin due to a situation that sounds very familiar right now.
In 2014, Russia invaded and took over Crimea, which at that time was part of Ukraine. As tension grew and the United States and European Union applied sanctions on Russia, Putin reportedly turned the screws on Prokhorov to sell the team as a means to, as one source put it, “test the loyalty of oligarchs with assets in the West to show they won’t get too close to the US or Europe.”
“Putin strongly suggested he sell the Nets,” the source said. And if Prokhorov refused, he risked losing his considerable assets in Russia.
“You couldn’t be pro-Russian and own an NBA team,” another source who knows Prokhorov said.
A Prokhorov spokesman denied that Putin pressured him to sell but Prokhorov noted back in 2015 that sanctions made things challenging for Russian businessmen and Prokhorov eventually sold a 49 percent stake to Tsai for $1 billion in 2017. After the Treasury Department put Prokhorov on a list of “Kremlin-friendly Russian tycoons,” Prokhorov sold the rest of the team to Tsai for another $2.35 billion, which was the highest price for an American sports team. So whether or not it was by choice, it’s not like Prokhorov lost out on the deal.
It remains to be seen how Abramovich handles Chelsea or if Putin is doing the same to him as he allegedly did to Prokhorov. Either way, this story isn’t ending anytime soon.