heinnews’s David Hein had the chance for a long interview with CSKA Moscow star and former Utah Jazz All-Star Andrei Kirilenko. The two talked about a large array of subjects. We split the interview into two parts. In the second half Hein and Kirilenko discuss carrying the flag at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; his wife’s comments of allowing him one affair per year; the tattoes on his back; his Kirilenko’s Kids foundation; fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov’s buying the New Jersey Nets; feeling sorry if he had left CSKA Moscow after the lockout ended; his friends in both the hockey and soccer worlds; Real Madrid or Barcelona being favorites to win the UEFA Champions League; not thinking about winning the Euroleague but just going step-by-step.
heinnews: You had already been to the 2000 Olympics. But at the 2008 Games in Beijing you were the flag bearer. Germany’s 2008 flag bearer Dirk Nowitzki said that was an amazing honor. How do you recall the march into the Olympic Stadium in Beijing that night?
Kirilenko: You can trust Dirk, he knows what he’s talking about. It is very special. Just getting into the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony is already makes you shake inside. Being in the head of the whole country, representing full-of-stars Russian Team is a huge feeling. I felt touched, amazed and inspired. But it would be much better if we were a bit more lucky in Beijing basketball tournament…
heinnews: Many people made a big deal about your wife’s comments allowing you to have one affair per year. What did you think of all the hoopla around that?
Kirilenko: It was crazy and funny to read. But I can tell you we never pay too much attention to what other people say or write about us. We have our points of view and we don’t take them out of nowhere. Masha loves to shock so called common opinion sometimes; she is having fun this way. I think she has the right to do that.
heinnews: Another thing which caught some off guard was your back tattoo. Can you tell us exactly what is depicted? Did you have an epiphany to get the tattoo? Did you design it yourself? Or who designed it?
Kirilenko: It is personal and I don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t do it to impress anyone in basketball world, but for some reason people talk about it more than about basketball…J.
heinnews: I wanted to ask you about your foundation Kirilenko’s Kids. How important is that foundation in your life and what was the biggest reason for starting it? And how many children have you helped? What is the biggest way the foundation assists children?
Kirilenko: My family started it in 2003. We feel like if we can help someone we should do it. I enjoy being involved into foundation’s activities. I don’t know the exact number of kids we helped but it’s a lot. We are helping sick children, orphanages, sport schools.
heinnews: In January 2011, you and Masha acquired American citizenship. What did that step mean to you and your wife?
Kirilenko: I was born Russian and I’ll die as Russian. American passport makes your life easier in many ways, especially when you live in USA. For example in travelling around the globe, getting your paperwork done faster, etc.
heinnews: Also, your birth city Izhevsk teamed up with Salt Lake City as sister cities. What did you think about that?
Kirilenko: I think it is great and symbolical for me. But I don’t really know about any benefits from this fact.
heinnews: Back to sports. What would you say was your biggest win(s) and your most crushing loss(es)?
Kirilenko: 2007 Eurobasket gold was definitely very special one. As for the losses… I think we had several tough Eurobaskets before that. And I am pretty sure we were able to reach more in the NBA playoffs with Stockton and Malone.
heinnews: What were your thoughts on Mikhail Prokhorov buying the New Jersey Nets? Did you know him at all, and if so what do you think of him as an individual?
Kirilenko: First of all it was his business decision. Pretty sure that he sees the perspective for the club and for the team. I know that business-wise he is always trying to bring the best management possible for his assets. I do know him pretty well, have all the respect towards him and support his decision to try himself on Russian presidential elections.
heinnews: Do you think more non-Americans will see this as an entry way into the NBA and more will be buying NBA teams in the future?
Kirilenko: I don’t think it is about being American or not. The business has become international long ago. And if it is still a rarity for the NBA, you can look at English Premiership to see that the owners from abroad are able to make the clubs and the league better.
heinnews: You decided in the off-season to sign a contract with your former club CSKA Moscow. And then when the NBA lockout ended, you elected to finish the season in Russia. What was the biggest factor in that decision? And do you see yourself definitely returning to the NBA next season if you get a deal you like?
Kirilenko: I can’t say that there was the factor bigger than some others. I’d say I felt sorry to leave the team I like so much, the team we were working so hard to build. I would definitely love to help CSKA win the Euroleague and all the other titles this year. Besides it was also about my family – I did not want to move again in just half a year after we left Salt Lake. The other thing is that the NBA season is pretty short and packed, the players have to play 4-5 games a week and you can see already how many injuries they suffered. I realized that it is a big risk. As for the possible return… I was always saying that I would love to play in the best league in the world. So, yes, in the end of the season I will consider all the offers from the NBA again. But that does not means I will definitely go.
heinnews: You turned 31 in February, how many more years do you see yourself playing? If you do go back to the NBA, do you think you would then return to Europe and finish your career here?
Kirilenko: I think I still have 3-4 years of highest level basketball in future. But I was never thinking about slowly finishing career somewhere. As soon as I see I don’t belong to the best in the world I will retire.
heinnews: I hear you’re not too bad of a soccer player. Do you have any soccer players as good friends? Who are your favorite players? Who do you think will win the Champions League this spring?
Kirilenko: Thierry Henry, Yury Zhirkov in Russia… They are good friends of mine… Favorite players: I’d say Real and Barcelona have about 5-10 players I ENJOY to watch… I think one of this two teams will win the trophy!
heinnews: Speaking of Champions League, CSKA Moscow are dominating the Euroleague. How impressed have you been with this team? What do you think the team needs to do to hoist the trophy in Istanbul?
Kirilenko: I don’t like the domination term. We did not play against many big teams in the Euroleague this season. We still have to test ourselves against Barcelona, Maccabi, Montepaschi… But I like the way we are playing even though we have broke our streak in Istanbul recently. We definitely miss Victor Khryapa right now (back with the team now) but I am sure we are strong enough to qualify for the quarterfinals even without our captain. As for winning the trophy, we should not think about it. We have to move step by step and we should remember that the most important games are ahead of us yet.