Storm PF Lauren Jackson’s parents spoke with the Daily Telegraph regarding their daughter’s feelings about the death of Russian tycoon Shabtai von Kalmanovic. A native Australian, the two-time MVP (pictured right) received the news at 4 a.m.
“She was crying,” Jackson’s father Gary said. “I think she’s still in shock. Lauren was at the Australian Institute of Sport rehabilitating her back injury and was getting ready to head back to play for Shabtai’s club, Spartak Moscow Region.”
Instead, Jackson boarded a flight to Tel Aviv for Kalmanovic’s funeral on Thursday. Storm teammate Sue Bird, who also played for Spartak the past three seasons, is also expected to attend. Bird has been contacted via telephone and unavailable for comment, however.
Spartak’s Euroleague match against Hungarian side Szeviep Szeged scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed.
Although too soon to discuss, Gary Jackson did mention the future of Spartak in the article, wondering about their daughter’s financial future. Kalmanovic was personally invested in the team and isn’t believed to have a financial successor aside from family. The Russian league was so competitive because various owners lured top players with money, competing with each other for the best. Some of those clubs have already folded as the downturn in the economy hit Russia.
The other aspect of this is where the money actually came from. A few years back Bird joked that the Russian mob was involved in women’s basketball and Jackson hinted the same. Articles about Kalmanovic’s past even depict a dark side, but the reasoning for his death is still being investigated.
It was widely suspected that Kalmanovic smuggled diamonds from South Africa and Sierra Leone, but he denied those rumors. And in a Sports Illustrated article last year, he explained paying players huge sums without a fan base to support the lavish spending: “There still isn’t enough of a middle class in Russia for sport to pay for itself. And you cannot deduct expenses on sport [from your taxes]. So you need to have a very big heart and very big balls, and need to be something between a fanatic and a patriot. And a little bit crazy.”
If Spartak disbanded, Jackson and Bird would surely be picked up by another team. Storm teammate Camille Little recently signed with KV Imperial AEL in Cyprus (the same team as G Tanishha Wright), Katie Gearlds is playing for F.E.A. team of the A1 league in Greece, and F Swin Cash was just picked up by Guangdong Asia Aluminum of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association.
UMMC Ekaterinburg is the only remaining Russian team spending millions on American players, signing Los Angeles star Candace Parker to a reported $1.2 million contract. Parker is currently stateside, attending her brother and husband’s NBA games, but said in September that she would play in Russia.
“That’s the plan,” said Parker, who couldn’t play last season due to the birth of her first child. “I was going to play last year, but I had a little blessing. I’m going to go over there and play basketball. I’m a woman of my word as long as everything is cool. I think it’s a great situation. I met the coach and talked with a bunch of players, so I’m excited about it.”