Friday, December 12, 2008

Storm in the News

The story of Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson in Russia playing for Spartak and (eccentric?) owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic has been relatively well-trod over the last couple of years, but Alexander Wolff's feature in the current issue of Sports Illustrated (with Florida QB Tim Tebow on the cover) reveals some further details while making von Kalmanovic the center of a look at sports in Russia and why the country's oligarchs have invested so much money in sports.

With von Kalmanovic in particular, that translates into care for his players that goes above and beyond the norm.

"Don't ever sneeze around him," says Bird. "He'll pull out five different medications. The way he treats us, it really makes you want to play hard."

While the article is available online, the magazine itself offers photos, including one of Bird, Jackson and Diana Taurasi with von Kalmanovic and part of his art collection.

What is interesting about Wolff's feature is that it largely glosses over the impact of the financial crisis, which put CSKA Moscow's future in jeopardy within the past month. A much more pessimistic perspective is offered by the International Herald Tribune.

The global financial crisis has forced many of Russia's professional sports teams to trim costs, bringing to a halt a spending spree that was fuelled by soaring oil and gas prices over the past few years.

Many of the country's top clubs in soccer, ice hockey and basketball are owned or sponsored by individuals or companies which have made their money from producing raw material such as oil and gas.

The crisis has forced big clubs to cut their budgets next year and threatened smaller ones with extinction unless they find other sources of income in the changing financial climate.

I suspect the reality of the situation, as it usually does, falls somewhere in between those two extremes.

Closer to home, Eric Williams of The News Tribune chatted with Karen Bryant about the Storm's future in the wake of last week's news about the Houston Comets, getting updates on offseason developments on and off the court. I think I was remiss last week with the Houston news not mentioning how lucky the Storm is to have a committed local ownership group that has made the transition to being an indepent organization as smooth as possible.

Also, Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer points out that when people say 2008 has been a terrible year for Seattle sports, that's largely only true of the men's teams. The women, including the Storm, have shined throughout the year.

Lastly, exciting news from Australia. Former Storm assistant Carrie Graf has been named head coach of the Opals National Team through the 2012 London Olympics, a dream job for her. Graf will attempt to guide the Aussies to an upset of the U.S. and a breakthrough after three consecutive losses to the Americans in the finals.

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