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The latest news and analysis on college and pro women's basketball.

December 15, 2008 at 1:21 PM

Sports Illustrated article pictures stars Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson; dives in Russian sports ownership

Spartak.jpgAnyone else notice how the WNBA’s website is spending more time providing its fans with info about players’ overseas whereabouts and stats? In the past, there was an occasional story or update. And maybe a few stories about championship runs. Now, there’s a full link in addition to features.
Sports Illustrated’s story about Russian sports club owners in this week’s issue (Dec. 15) is a sure bet why the WNBA has changed their tune over the years. Instead of being the impetuous newcomer to FIBA, looking for international leagues to change, the WNBA has buckled — a little — pushing back their start-date a week and encouraging GMs not to be so harsh in fining players for late arrival due to overseas play.
The WNBA seems to be realizing that without offering money, like the deep six-figure salaries in Russia and China, they have little power. Comparing playing for Russian owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic to the Phoenix Mercury, guard Diana Taurasi is quoted as saying “the WNBA is, like, communist” in the article.
Yet, the point wasn’t bashing the 12-year-old American league. It was a real good look behind-the-scenes at how and why these zillionaire Russian owners pump so much money into sport. If the WNBA doesn’t recognize at least Russia’s ability — who’ll pay MVP Candace Parker a reported $1.2 million for four months this winter — they could end up without elite stars.
“You think Russia doesn’t know what they’re doing?” Olympic coach Anne Donovan said prior to winning gold in Beijing about the country meddling with America’s basic desire to make money at a job they have passion for.
In lieu of Houston folding, it was interesting to read how uber rich Russian owners — forced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — take pride in dumping money in all types of sports. In America, it’s a know fact that in leagues like the NBA, you recoup your money in selling and you’ll lose more than you make for the most part. But there isn’t a civic pride that extends to women or the obscure sport. Even Anne Levinson, chairperson of the Storm’s ownership group Force 10 Hoops, admits that the women aren’t just going to lose money forever.
Then again, they aren’t zillionaires, either. Their best bet is working with Kalmanovic to be sure free agent Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird are happy abroad and in Seattle. Based on the lead photo where the former army intelligence officer is flanked by a giddy Jackson and smiley Bird and Taurasi with numerous trophies and designer leather basketballs all around, Kalmanovic is already doing his job for Spartak Moscow. (He’s pictured above, far right by the Associated Press.)
But there’s even trouble financially in Russia, wondering how long they can continue operating in the red. There are some comments in the SI piece, only they mainly elude to a cyclical ride that will have another up tick based on the oil industry.
Either way, the article is an interesting read about how it’s done elsewhere.



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