KB Russia Blog
Posted on March 27, 2008
In my last entry, I mentioned conducting interviews with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. They are now on the site and you can listen to them here (Bird) and here (Jackson).
Home Sweet Home
Posted on March 18, 2008
I landed back in Seattle midday on Sunday after a 38-hour journey that began at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning in Moscow. My flight was delayed almost eight hours out of Moscow, so I missed my connecting flight and had to spend Saturday night in NYC. I canít recall a time when I was so thankful to finally see the beauty of the Northwest from my seat.
In spite of the extra-long return home, Iím so glad I made the trip. It was a great opportunity to see and reconnect with Lauren and Sue. With a long off-season and thousands of miles between us, communication with players that consists mostly of text messaging and a sporadic phone calls has limited benefit. Spending a few days with them in Russia was a chance to convey, in person, all the excitement and buzz surrounding the team in Seattle - new owners, the teamís future in Seattle secure, free agent signings, awesome fan support including a Season Ticket Base that is approaching 3,000, and much more.
Another main objective of the trip was to provide Brian a chance to build a personal connection with Sue and Lauren as we head into their first season together. Brian was able to talk about the direction of the team from his perspective while also giving Sue and Lauren a chance to share their perspectives on a variety of topics. I think it was a plus that Brianís initial face-to-face interaction with them as the Stormís head coach occurred off the court in a more personal and informal setting (the next time we see Sue and Lauren, the team will be in the thick of preparations for the start of the 2008 season with a heightened sense of urgency and focus).
Another component of Moscow Mission 2008 was to lock up Sue to a new multi-year contract. While the new deal might have been a formality once the teamís future in Seattle was secured with local ownership, Iím glad we were able to reinforce to Sue in person how important she is to our franchise to and to hear her reiterate her commitment and excitement to the Storm and our fans.
Spartakís GM Steve Costalas (a really nice man and fabulous host) arranged for a driver to take us into the heart of Moscow on Friday morning. Unbeknownst to us, Steve also arranged for a guide to accompany us. It was an abbreviated tour but provided our only opportunity to see some of the more famous sights of Moscow up close and personal and to experience the bustle of Moscowís City Center. With the added benefit of a very knowledgeable and engaging guide, it was an interesting and informative few hours. A few of my photos with captions are posted below, so be sure to check those out.
After the tour, we returned to the hotel for a short time before departing for the arena to watch Spartakís practice. After practice, I conducted brief interviews with Sue and Lauren and then it was off to dinner with Sue to celebrate her new contract.
Not surprisingly, sushi was the meal of choice. I was a little apprehensive at first (Iím not sure how far fish has to travel to get to Moscow), but Sue assured me it was good and that was enough for me. While Brian and I relied on photos and finger pointing to select our dinner choices, Sue confidently communicated her sushi order in Russian without pause. After spending time with Sue in Moscow, itís clear that she has really taken to her off-season home and lifestyle abroad. Given that what started as a one-year commitment has evolved into a four-year international career, itís obvious that there is much that continues to lure her back.
Dinner was a nice chance to just sit back, relax and visit with our All-Star point guard. In addition to being a great basketball player, Sue is a charming and fun person to be around. As you know, the Storm drafted #10 in 2002 at 22 years old. Weíve experienced so much as a team and an organization over the past six years and Iím grateful for the chance Iíve had to work with her, to watch her develop and grow and to simply have the chance to get to know her as a person during her time in Seattle.
We wrapped up dinner and said our goodbyes. Sue was headed back home to watch Prison Break and do an interview with KJR. For me, it was back to the hotel to pack up for my morning departure.
All in all, it was a great trip - brief but productive and meaningful. I hope you enjoyed my first foray in the blogosphere. In spite of best intentions, I never manage to keep travel journals, so in addition to sharing my journey with you, this blog doubles as a recap of my inaugural trip to Russia. Sharing my journey with you helped me to feel connected to Seattle and the Storm while I was away, so thanks for being on the other end.
Now, itís back to work to continue preparations for 2008. The staff is working hard and continues to be inspired by the level of momentum and interest surrounding our team right now. I know the positive energy will continue to build as we count down to Opening Night on May 17. I have every confidence that 2008 will be marked by a sense of ďnewnessĒ and filled with memorable experiences. I look forward to sharing all of it with you. Thanks for being the best fans in the WNBA!
Posted on March 17, 2008
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Posted on March 14, 2008
Hello again. I'm sorry I didn't get back to post again after the game as I said I would. The Europe team ran away with it so it was a disappointing second half (truth be told, jetlag was starting to set in and my blackberry thumbs were sore from too much activity so I took the rest of the night off). The final score was 111-86, a victory for the European All-Stars. Three MVPs were named: Becky Hammon for Europe, Cappie Pondexter for the Rest of the World and Amaya Valdemoro MVP for the match. With the honor, Valdemoro also took home a brand new Mercedes SUV.
Even though it wasn't a very competitive game, it was great to experience a pro game in Moscow especially in front of Spartak's home crowd. The game presentation was great (the dancers were awesome) and the crowd was really into the game until Europe ran away with it.
I also enjoyed the chance to sit with Renee Brown and listen to her insights about the international game, the upcoming WNBA season and life in general. She has a unique vantage point with many experiences to draw from and I had a rare chance to sit and pick her brain for two hours. Like me and so many others, she is as excited as ever about the 2008 WNBA season.
It's time for me to get some much-needed rest now, but I will post again once I'm back in Seattle. There is still much to share - the postgame party highlighted by a special guest who was flown in from LA to perform for the players and special guests, interesting factoids and photos from today's guided tour around the heart of Moscow and my interviews with Lauren and Sue.
Stay tuned for my final chapter coming on Monday.
At the All-Star Game
Posted on March 13, 2008
It's Thursday night, a little after 5 p.m. local and the Rest of the World team is taking the floor. So much for the uniform anxiety (see below); seems that they've been allowed to scrap the All-Star tights in favor of their regular uniforms. Lauren and Sue are teamed up with Nicole Ohlde, Cappie Pondexter, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Diana Taurasi, Nykesha Sales, Lindsay Whalen, Jessica Dickson, Chamique Holdsclaw, Janel McCarville and Iciss Tillis. Europe is led by Ann Wauters, Maria Stepanova and Becky Hammon. There is another familiar face on the sideline - one of the coaches for the World team is former LSU Head Coach Pokey Chatman (she is an assistant for Spartak).
Tipoff is about three minutes away. I'm sitting courtside with WNBA Chief of BBall Ops Renee Brown. Capacity is about 3,500 and every seat is full. Renee told me that all the tickets are complimentary, as the event planners wanted to give everyone in the community the chance to attend, regardless of income. The pregame entertainment just started, which consists of dancers wearing beautiful costumes and demonstrating some fancy footwork. The announcers just completed starting lineups with the house lights off and flames shooting out of illuminated basketballs as each name was called. As I watched the Rest of the World's players run through the lighted tunnel, it was hard not to think they could have simplified the name and just said "WNBA All-Stars." This is the home arena for Sue, Lauren and Dee and they definitely get the loudest applause. This Moscow crowd is in for a treat.
It's probably rude to sit in the front row on my blackberry, plus I'm excited to see some great basketball, so I'm signing off for now and will check back in later with a game recap.
Posted on March 12, 2008
The trip started off really early Tuesday morning with the first of two legs taking me to NYC, where I met up with Coach Agler. With just enough time to get to the international terminal, we checked in for our flight to Moscow and were on our way. About nine hours later the plane touched down in Moscow and I had arrived for my inaugural visit to Russia.
With snow on the ground, gray sky and a slight drizzle it felt just like home. Sue's and LJ's squad, Spartak, had arranged for an expedited customs process, so after a short wait we collected our bags, met our driver and began a 90-minute drive to Hotel Milan. The traffic in Moscow surprised us - it was terrible. It was midmorning with no apparent accident or cause, but the congestion rivaled Manhattan. After commenting to Sue later, she confirmed that its some of the worst traffic she's experienced (and she's lived in New York and Seattle!). We finally made it to the hotel and were greeted by a very hospitable group hosting tomorrow's All-Star game.
Next it was off to the arena to watch practice and get our first chance to see Sue and Lauren. Once again, traffic was a problem and what should have been a 10-minute drive took more than an hour. We arrived at the arena and were escorted upstairs to the practice gym. As soon as we walked through the door, LJ pulled up and drained a three ... what a sight for sore eyes! During a water break we finally had the chance to say hello and exchange hugs - it was so great to see their smiling faces . Catching up and visiting after so many months reinforced how much I miss them during the off-season.
After a brief visit at the gym, we were off to dinner with Sue, Lauren, Diana Taurasi and Becky Hammon. As we sat down, we enjoyed a few quiet moments before a female singer hired especially for us began belting out Russia's top hits. After Dee requested that the volume be turned down, I began updating them on all the great momentum for the Storm in Seattle and the new ownership group. We talked about free agency and the player movement around the league and of course we shared our excitement about the additions of Sheryl and Swin to our team.
By now, it was after 11 and time to retire for the evening. In summary, day one seemed short but it was great to see Sue and Lauren and have the chance to reconnect. I'm happy to report they both look and feel great and are treated well for over here. Tomorrow is the Euroleague All-Star game, with a Europe vs. the Rest of the World format, and a chance to see Sue and LJ in action. There was much talk (and complaining) at dinner about the "special" All-Star uniforms, so we will have to wait and see what all of the fuss is about.