I vividly remember a star point guard for the Russian Olympic teams of my youth named Sergei Bazarevich. I remember him in large part because he looked like a cross between the Finnish actor Matti Pellonpaa and a roadie for Gogol Bordello. That is, he had Soviet Bloc mustache action for days and a Working Man’s Hairdo that contrasted pretty vividly with the gumby-shaped, Bobby Brown-inspired looks on that era’s U.S. National Team. One of my favorite things that I grabbed from Topps as I was leaving a few years back was a 1995 Topps Basketball card for S-Baz; I’m pretty sure it’s his only card, since he never played a minute in the NBA, but it’s an amazing picture. He’s wearing a Hawks warm-up on the front, and basically looks like Jeff Foxworthy attending a Hawks fantasy camp. That is what I always thought Russian basketball looked like. (Paradoxically, I always thought it sounded like Built to Spill’s “Sabonis Tracks” EP)
But it’s a new era, with the proletarian Bazareviches of yore replaced by albino-looking dudes who run around with the word “Fucka” on the back of their jerseys — to be fair, that’s more a result of Russian guard Gregor Fucka‘s pigmentation and last name than anything else. And now, Russian hoop is evolving again. The nightmarish authoritarian plutocracy that is Putin’s Russia may have found something even scarier than obviously murdering dissidents and brilliant, critical journalists…this isn’t it, but they might have. I’m referring to recent news that WNBA guard Becky Hammon (above) has become a Russian citizen — she actually did so after signing a massive deal with Russia’s CSKA women’s team, whose American-buying antics have been detailed previously — and will be taking over as the starting point guard for the Russian Olympic Women’s Basketball team.
The Russians will now have two Americans running their squads in the Olympics. The story of Bucknell alum J.R. Holden, who’ll be joining NBA players Andrei Kirilenko and Victor Khryapa on the Russian Men’s Team, was briefly news last year; Hammon, like Holden, doesn’t speak or read any Russian. But she does know how to paraphrase mawkish old Sting songs, as Barbara Barker’s report from Newsday demonstrated last week:
For years, Americans have played for other teams. Usually, the vehicle for participation is some sort of family tie. More than half of the Greek Olympic softball players in 2004 were Americans, who met the requirement of having at least one great-grandparent from Greece, which had never previously fielded a softball team in international competition.
Hammon has no Russian ancestry and had never been to the country before signing a contract to play professionally there. Yet under Russian rules, a player who has not played for another country internationally can become a naturalized citizen and then play for the Olympic team.
And that’s what Hammon, who finished second in the 2007 MVP voting, decided to do after she was not one of the first 23 players invited to contend for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She decided she was going to go where she was wanted.
“I didn’t say no to USA Basketball,” Hammon recently told the Houston Chronicle. “The option for me to play for USA Basketball really wasn’t an option … I don’t think people would be as upset if I was playing for Switzerland. God loves Russia just as much as God loves America.”
U.S. Olympic Coach Anne Donovan has apparently tabbed Hammon a traitor, but considering my lack of interest in women’s basketball as a general rule I don’t know how much longer this post needs to be. I will mention this, though: I was really disappointed by the lack of ridiculousness in this AOL Fanhouse comments section. When I look for illiberal, functionally illiterate sentiments on world issues, I head to Fanhouse first. Not to say the Fanhouse discussion smart, but no one can even bring themselves to type the word “commie?” Really?