Russia Welcomes American to Olympic Team

San Antonio Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon is playing for the Russian basketball team at the Olympics in Beijing. Scott Simon talks with her about her decision.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Last night, Becky Hammon hit two late game free-throws to lead the San Antonio Silver Stars to a 77/75 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. She had 19 points, six rebounds, five assists, great game by any measure. But Becky Hammon's been in another spotlight recently, for her decision to play in the Olympic games this summer, for Russia. Becky Hammon is from South Dakota, but she plays much of the year for a pro-team in Moscow, and was invited to play for the Russian team. Becky Hammon joins us now from San Antonio. Thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. BECKY HAMMON (Basketball Player, San Antonio Silver Stars): Yeah, thanks for having me.

SIMON: You get any grief on the court?

Ms. HAMMON: No, actually a lot of the players have gone out of their way to voice their support for me, and just give me a lot of encouragement, and a lot of, you know, I'd do the same thing, and you know, go win the gold, and so there's been an overwhelming amount of support.

SIMON: Tony Parker, who plays there for a men's team in San Antonio is French, but he plays for the French National basketball team. Manu Ginobili also plays there in San Antonio. He's going to play in the Olympics for his native Argentina. Why and how did you make a different choice?

HAMMON: Well, for me it was, I would have loved to play for the U.S., obviously. I grew up in South Dakota and it's always been a dream of mine to play for my country. I love our country. I love what our country stands for. I think we're a beacon of light. I think we have, you know, people look at us as a bright opportunity and you know we're still the leaders of the free world. So I'm very proud of our country. However, strong indications to me that you know the U.S. team wasn't really considering me, so I had to go in another direction. Although it's not what I envisioned for myself, but it's still a big opportunity, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in the Olympics. So I'm going ahead with the opportunities, so...

SIMON: You are 31, right?

HAMMON: Yes.

SIMON: Which is still younger than me. I still have dreams about being an Olympic athlete. Did you feel, as you say that this was the year you either got to play in the Olympics, or not?

HAMMON: Yeah. I mean, if I was a little bit younger, I probably would wait and hope to be put on the next Olympic team. But, you know, I've spent a lot of years waiting. I've been in WNBA for - this is my tenth year. And I've always had, I've had a good career and, you know, so, I'm not getting any younger, that's for sure. But I think this is a great opportunity.

Also, you know I have a lot of friends in Moscow...

SIMON: Yeah.

HAMMON: And I think the Olympics is about building friendship and unity, and just walking through a door that has been opened to me. And so I'm really thankful for just the chance to go to Beijing and compete with the best athletes in the world.

SIMON: Are you close to your Russian teammates?

HAMMON: What's that?

SIMON: Are you close to your Russian teammates? Buds?

HAMMON: Yeah, I am. There's a, you know, I played in Moscow as well. And so there's probably three or four of my club team-members that are national team members, so - and I've met most of the national team members throughout the year, playing against them in Russia or what-not. So, yeah, I've formed a lot of great friendships, I think.

We definitely have a trust with each other, which I think is - that's a big thing, you know? To change somebody's heart and mind. When I first went over there the Russians I don't think wanted an American on their team, and I wasn't too interested in playing for them. And as time went by, I think everybody's hearts changed towards it, I know mine did, and now I'm just excited. I know now they've just opened up and have welcomed me with open arms. Becky Hammon, thanks so much.

HAMMON: Yeah, thank you.

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