Former NBA star Kirilenko hopes to rescue Russian basketball
by Associated Press
MOSCOWAug 24, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Aug 24, 2015 12:00 am
After spending more than a decade in the NBA, former All-Star Andrei Kirilenko is taking on what may be his biggest challenge yet rescuing basketball in his native Russia. Since Kirilenko helped his national team win Olympic bronze in 2012, Russian basketball has gone into a tailspin. The national team is in danger of failing to qualify for next year's Olympics and the sport is losing fans to the likes of soccer and ice hockey. But Kirilenko thinks he can help turn things around.
"A couple of years ago, (basketball) was the fourth or third (most popular) sport; right now I think it's seventh, something like that," said the 6-foot-9 forward. "I want basketball to be popular and to be in every house in our country."
Kirilenko only retired from playing in June after a final season with CSKA Moscow, but already he is throwing himself into the bearpit of Russian basketball politics with a bid to become president of the Russian Basketball Federation, an organization so notorious for scandals that it was suspended by international governing body FIBA after years of legal battles.
Kirilenko faces resistance from some in the federation old guard and, with nationalist sentiment riding high in Russia, he has been criticized for having a U.S. passport in addition to his Russian nationality after becoming an American citizen in 2011 while with the Utah Jazz.
"People who talk about that, they want to be picky, they want to find something that doesn't fit a good profile," he says. "I was born in Russia, the whole of my life I've been a Russian and I will die a Russian."
So far Kirilenko is the only candidate for Tuesday's election, though there is a late push to get national team general manager Dmitry Domani onto the ballot too. If elected, Kirilenko vows to shake up Russian basketball. "We got used to working a certain way, I call it the old-fashioned way," he says, speaking in an upscale restaurant in central Moscow. He wants to use his celebrity profile to attract sponsors, bring in modern management techniques and attract many more youngsters to the game in a long-term project to rebuild Russia's struggling national team.