At the tender age of 34, Utah Jazz legend and former NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko is already settling into retired life. The multi-talented forward known to most as “AK-47” elected to end his basketball career earlier this summer after plying his trade in Russia and the NBA for the better part of two decades.
Of course, Kirilenko’s definition of “settling” may be slightly different from ours. Much as he was in his playing days, changing the game and creating chaos on the hardwood, the former Jazzman is a bundle of activity in retirement. His objective–to save the sport of Basketball in Russia.
Following his June retirement announcement, Kirilenko hinted at a potential run for the presidency of the Russian Basketball Federation. Now, his ambitions are approaching their realization as AK-47 enters Tuesday’s election for the presidency as the only candidate currently on the ballot.
In a feature by James Ellingworth of the Associated Press, Kirilenko talked about the recent decline of the sport in his home country–
“A couple of years ago, (basketball) was the fourth or third (most popular) sport; right now I think it’s seventh, something like that,” said the six-foot-nine forward. “I want basketball to be popular and to be in every house in our country.”
The 13-year NBA veteran will have his work cut out for him if he can secure the nomination. The Russian Basketball Federation has fallen prey to in-fighting and controversy in recent years, highlighted by a 2013 battle between former WNBA player Svetlana Abrosimova and Yulia Anikeeva for the presidency that began at the polls and ended up in the court room.
Kirilenko hopes to turn the organization around by re-focusing on the foundation of the basketball program. If elected, he has designs to broaden the recruiting base for the national team by placing a greater emphasis on youth basketball.
Clearly, Kirilenko is looking to attack the problems facing Russian basketball in the same manner he used to stymie opposing offenses for the Jazz. His efforts come at a pivotal time for the national program, as the women’s national team has already failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games and the men’s squad faces an uphill battle.
Still, his love for the game and position as one of the most important figures in Russian basketball history could make for a winning combination in the Federation’s battle for relevancy.
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