03.26.08

Russian Millionaire’s Tall-Lady Collection Exposed in Los Angeles Times

Posted in Basketball at 3:20 pm by

Let me speak for all the adjunct staffers of CSTB when I say this: we have heard your message. Your voice has been heard. And so you shall have the women’s basketball coverage you demand!

Or…well, I don’t think anyone was asking for it. But as part of working on a post this morning for the Wall Street Journal‘s Daily Fix blog — I’ll be picking up a few days a week there, for I don’t know how long — a reader of said blog forwarded an article from the Los Angeles Times about a Russian plutocrat’s sports-related hobby. (No, WSJ doesn’t require that a plutocrat or millionaire appear in every article) (Or rather, not that I know of) You expect flamboyant wastefulness and outrageously shitty taste from Russian oligarchs, but Shabtai von Kalmanovic isn’t about show horses or dipping random things around his house in platinum or competitive jet-sailing or whatever it is that tacky ultra-billionaires do. He is, explains Megan Stack, more of a Diana Taurasi guy:

He has been linked romantically to Liza Minnelli. He did prison time in Israel, accused of being a Soviet spy. He has amassed what he says is the largest collection of Judaica in Eastern Europe. This is a man who can do just about anything that catches his fancy.


As it turns out, he’s got a thing for basketball, a sport he played growing up in Lithuania. He has dumped millions of dollars into rebuilding Spartak, the franchise he owns, into what is now one of Europe’s best women’s basketball teams.

Kalmanovic cherry-picks the brightest stars from the Women’s National Basketball Assn., pays them as much as 10 times more than they earn in the United States, and brings them to Moscow in the WNBA off-season, where they live in luxury and play before halfhearted audiences…

Nobody is making money off Spartak. On the contrary, it’s better described as an extravagance than a business: Kalmanovic has to pay Russian television to air the games, and they often end up being broadcast in the middle of the night. Nobody even bothers to sell tickets to the games. Too much bureaucracy, Kalmanovic says. The spectators are mostly schoolchildren, soldiers and locals looking for a free night of entertainment.

On this point, the players are defensive. Basketball is different in Russia and the United States, they say, but that doesn’t mean the interest in it is lower.

“You can’t compare the two,” Diana Taurasi, one of the team’s stars, says firmly.

Meanwhile, Kalmanovic says his players are on par with George Michael and Madonna, and he spoils them rotten. A staff of 25 assistants, not counting drivers and housekeepers, caters to their whims. They are chauffeured in Mercedes-Benzes, put up at Europe’s finest hotels and greeted with bouquets at every airport, whether they’ve won or lost. They aren’t allowed to carry their own luggage — they’re women after all, Kalmanovic says.

“If [the players] will go to the game and think, where’s her child or is the TV working at home and where will she eat after and is the flight home booked and will the money arrive on time — if she has any concern other than basketball, I cannot demand the maximum from her,” he says. “I have to take away each and every concern.

“They should be treated like people of art, like stars.”

2 Responses to “Russian Millionaire’s Tall-Lady Collection Exposed in Los Angeles Times”

  1. Josh says:

    FYI, this was in SI months ago.

  2. GC says:

    amongst Kalmanovic’s pricey acquisitions : former LSU coach Pokey Chatman.

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