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An American athlete joins the Russians

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Is Becky Hammon a traitor or a savvy capitalist? The story in a nutshell: Hammon, 31 and from South Dakota, plays basketball for the San Antonio Silver Stars, where she earns the maximum WNBA salary, about $95,000, and was last season’s runner-up for the league’s MVP. Last year, she signed a four-year contract worth more ...

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Is Becky Hammon a traitor or a savvy capitalist?

The story in a nutshell: Hammon, 31 and from South Dakota, plays basketball for the San Antonio Silver Stars, where she earns the maximum WNBA salary, about $95,000, and was last season’s runner-up for the league’s MVP. Last year, she signed a four-year contract worth more than $2 million to play with a professional Russian team in the off-season. Russia then fast-tracked her to citizenship, and she became a dual U.S.-Russian citizen early this year. Two weeks later, she became a member of Russia’s national team and will now be representing Russia at the Olympics.

Hammon, who has no Russian heritage, says it was simply a smart business decision. Dual citizenship makes her more valuable because her Russian league requires two Russians on the court at all times and each club permits only two American players. “There’s nothing more American than taking advantage of an opportunity,” she told ESPN.

Hammon insists she never had a serious chance of making the U.S. Olympic team. She wasn’t on USA Basketball’s original short list of 23 candidates last year and, given that she’s 31, this Olympics is probably her last shot. (Why an MVP runner-up didn’t even make the short list is another subject altogether.)

Some may criticize Hammon for being unpatriotic, but she is embracing two things Americans love dearly — capitalism and the freedom to pursue happiness. In a world of athletes without borders, such as Lukas Podolski, expect more talented sports players to go to the highest bidder.

Still, I’m curious to see if her eyes tear up to Russia’s national anthem if she gets to mount the medals podium this August.

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. @pjaroonFP

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