By Johnny Askounis/ [email protected]
The man in charge of Russian basketball, Andrei Kirilenko, has not been kind to those he feels mix basketball with politics.
Kirilenko, 41, spoke to Mozzart Sport about a range of topics, from his duties as President of the Russian Basketball Federation to signing a contract with Partizan as a youngster.
Serbian teams Partizan NIS and Mega MIS were welcomed to the VTB League Super Cup 2022, facing CSKA, UNICS, Zenit and Lokomotiv Kuban in Moscow for the Alexander Gomelsky Cup. With Russian teams barred from continental and international competitions, the ongoing tournament is a rare sign of foreign teams in the country.
“I understand the situation” mentioned Kirilenko in reference to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the result of the invasion of Russia, “I am sure that the players neither follow politics nor are interested in politics. But nowadays everyone is an expert. We’re all experts on viruses and next-day politics. I know nothing about politics. I know basketball. I can help there.”
“I talk about basketball and play sports because I believe I understand how things work,” he added, “Sport should bring people together, not divide them. Basketball is for us to enjoy together and that’s the way it should be around the world.”
Looking back on his legendary playing career, he was quick to acknowledge the simplicity of those days compared to his current job. “It’s easier to be a basketball player. Of course you work hard every day and keep yourself ready. It’s demanding. Now, when I’m playing basketball in Russia, I’m thinking about a million things. I try to organize everything and keep it flowing to improve the basketball. Not just in pro basketball, but also at the local and school levels,” he explained.
He revealed an unknown part of his early days as a player, recalling a contract with Partizan. In 2001, he instead moved his talents to the NBA to start the long run with the Utah Jazz.
“I signed the contract but he had an NBA option” he said at the opening of the interview, “How would I look in the black and white jersey? We’ll never know. I will always be grateful that such a club took an interest in me from a young age.”
Kirilenko, nicknamed AK-47, also answered a question about Dejan Bodiroga’s appointment as President of Euroleague Basketball.
“He knows the problems, is one of the few people who understand both sides. He knows what FIBA wants, as does the EuroLeague.” he shared his confidence in Bodiroga’s qualities, “I believe that both sides have convincing arguments. Now it’s up to Dejan to bring them together to steer basketball in the right direction. I think he can.”