Russia: All Is Well As Leslie Leads Spartak Attack


Glasnost and Perestroika have changed Russia for the better, according to Spartak Moscow star Lisa Leslie.

America's most famous female basketball player visited the country 10 years ago with her national team and oh, how the times have changed.

Now 33, Leslie is back in Russia playing professionally.

So far, she says, so good.

"I was pleasantly surprised," she revealed in a recent interview with the Sport Express newspaper.

"The last time I visited Russia was in 1995 when I was in Ekaterinburg with the USA national team. Compared to those times, the situation in this country has undergone serious changes.

"We had practices in a cold gym in Ekaterinburg in 1995, the house we were living in was also cold, so there were many problems.

"And when I was going to Spartak, I didn't know what the conditions would be like there.

"Happily, all the fears were proven wrong - I have a superb house and the floor even has its own heating system.

"The club has a very good arena, etc, and I feel wonderful here."

Leslie hails from Los Angeles, where she has been a player with the Los Angeles Sparks for the past nine years.

She was in the City of Angels even before that with the University of Southern California.

LA is a city where race relations were thrown into the spotlight again recently by the Oscar-winning moving Crash.

Leslie says race has been a non-issue in Moscow.

"There is another important thing," she said. "I've never seen racism in Russia.

I think women's basketball is more appreciated in Russia and Europe than in the US
Lisa Leslie
"When I walk with my husband Michael, nobody points to us saying anything about the colour of our skin or height.

"Local people treat us warmly and are friendly."

Leslie has won three Olympic gold medals and two at FIBA World Championships.

She has been a key player for Spartak in the EuroCup Women, helping them reach the final on March 14 against Pays D'Aix, averaging 16.3 points and 10.2 rebounds.

With FIBA Europe having just launched the Year of Women's Basketball, it is fitting to see Leslie in the EuroCup Women's showpiece event.

On an international scale, few have done more to raise the profile of the sport.

Leslie says the women's game is highly regarded in Russia already.

"I think women's basketball is more appreciated in Russia and Europe than in the US," she said.

"Television broadcasts of women's basketball in the USA are no more frequent than figure skating or bobsleigh.

"Honestly speaking, now the situation is going better but Russia is ahead in this respect."

If there has been an adjustment to the Russian game, it's related to the officiating.

"It was hard to get used to the local refereeing," she said. "It depends on a referee - sometimes they allow you to play tough but sometimes you hear a whistle after slight contact.

"It's strictly according to the regulations in the WNBA - the referee comes up to the teams before a game and remind them of some rules.

"In Russia, you must adapt to that during a game. Sometimes it happens rather late - after you've had several fouls."

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