NBA all-star Kirilenko gunning to become new Russian basketball chief

Andrey Kirilenko © Brad Penner
Russian basketball is hoping one of its greatest-ever players could help it off-court. Andrey Kirilenko is running for the post of national president, with the sport in turmoil recently. Russia was even briefly suspended from competing internationally.

Kirilenko has achieved a lot on the basketball court. He is an NBA all-star, one of the best defensive players of the last decade and an Olympic bronze medalist. However, now the 34-year-old wants to step up to the board room and become the new president of the Russian Basketball Federation.

“I was raised playing Russian basketball and I’ve been playing basketball for about 27 years. I have finished my work as a player, but it’s a great opportunity for me to continue and help basketball in Russia just in a different role, as being a president, rather than as a player on the floor," Kirilenko told RT.

Russian basketball has been in a state of crisis over the last month. Following internal meddling by the Russian government in the national basketball federation’s affairs, the Federation of International Basketball Associations (FIBA), the sport’s governing body, banned Russia from competing in all tournaments under its jurisdiction.

This would have had a catastrophic effect on the future of the sport in the country, as failure to compete in this month’s European Championships would have meant Russia would not have been able to try and qualify for next summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“Sometimes politics gets in the way of sports, but if you take a look at all the games and competitions around, it’s not the right way. You remember the 1980 or the 1984 Olympics that it does not do any good when the strongest athletes cannot compete against each other – it shouldn’t be like that,” the former Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets star added.

Kirilenko has a rather unusual nickname – AK47, gained after his initials and the shirt number he used to wear before he retired.

Although he is the hot favorite to become the new Russian basketball president, he will still make sure he has time to continue other projects.

“I started my charity work about three years ago and we have three different directions. We help kids in the hospitals, kids in the orphanages and we help sports schools. I am very happy with our accomplishment and I hope we can continue what we are doing."

Family means a lot to Kirilenko and his wife, Maria Lopatova, as the pair adopted a baby daughter, Aleksandra in 2009, when she was just two months old.

Andrey is one of the best Russian basketball players since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The country will now be hoping that he will be able to show the same skills he displayed on courts around the globe and transform them into the boardroom and help basketball to continue to grow in Russia.