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Post When is an American a Russian?

Tuesday June 10, 2008

Some nations require years of residency and an exam for citizenship. In Russia, all it requires is a professional basketball contract.

Olympic dreams are commonplace for elite athletes. In many sports the Olympic gold medal is the summit, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an athlete who hasn’t been inspired along the way by watching one of his countrymen excel at the Olympics. But spots on the Olympic team aren’t as commonplace, so the dream of playing for one’s country never becomes a reality for most. Because of lineage or birthplace, dual citizenship is an option for some. For others, Mother Russia is willing to help.

Three WNBA players – including two former Georgia Lady Dogs – have made the 24-member preliminary squad for the Russian national women’s basketball team. How can native-born American citizens play for the Russians? ESPN explains in the case of WNBA star Becky Hammon,

Under Russian league rules, (Hammon) was able to obtain a passport and become a naturalized citizen because she had never appeared for another country in a FIBA-sanctioned event. In other words, she was still eligible to compete for Russia internationally.

Hammon’s papers were approved quickly by the highest levels of the Russian government, just as they were for former Bucknell guard J.R. Holden, who hit the game-winning shot last summer to help Russia win the 2007 Eurobasket Championships. Holden, too, will compete for Russia in Beijing.

Kelly Miller and Deanna Nolan are the former Georgia players on the squad. Both played for Russian club teams in the WNBA offseason and acquired Russian citizenship as a result. Neither was selected for the American national team (a questionable decision in Nolan’s case), so playing for Russia might be their only shot at playing in the Olympics. 20 years ago, this news would have been scandalous – if not impossible. How about now? Does it bug you that American athletes would take Russian citizenship in order to participate in the Olympics, or do you respect the decision to chase their Olympic dreams any way they can?

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