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Ukraine’s ex-NBA star Slava Medvedenko tells CBS News why he sold his championship rings and picked up a gun

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Kyiv — Slava Medvedenko is a former basketball star who helped deliver two NBA championships during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. But when Russia invaded his home country, like so many other Ukrainians, he picked up a gun.

Having witnessed first-hand the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine’s youth, Medvedenko sold his prized championship rings and used the proceeds to offer counselling and sporting opportunities to children.

Of his thousands and thousands of fans, none matter more to the Ukrainian baller than the people at home in Kyiv who, like him, at the moment are living in a warzone.

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Slava Medvedenko plays basketball with a teenager in Ukraine

 For one blissful moment, for the youngsters who took delivery of some latest basketballs from the L.A. Lakers, the war was interrupted, and so they got to play the sport they love.

“They sort of forget that there is a war,” the NBA star said, watching them on the court and calling it a type of “therapy” for the youngsters.

But suddenly, the war got here barging in. As Russian forces hit Ukraine’s power grid with a barrage of missile strikes this week, the lights over the court went dark.

Undeterred by the attack on their country’s basic services, the youngsters quickly switched on their mobile phone lights and kept the rehearsal going.

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Practicing in a dark Ukrainian gym with the sunshine of cell phones.

It’s all painfully familiar to Medvedenko, and it’s why he selected to place down his basketball and pick up an assault rifle to hitch the fight against the invasion. 

“I made a choice to remain in Kyiv,” he told CBS News. “Whatever I can do to defend my city.”

He said he’s seen his home city’s streets suffering from cars pockmarked by bullet holes, a few of them with the bodies of slain civilians still inside. He said one automotive was scrawled with large writing, declaring clearly that there have been children inside.

“However the Russians still shoot, shoot their cars,” he said. “That was scary.”

It was that moment, Medvedenko said, when he fully understood what really matters in life: People, not possessions. Not even his prized NBA championship rings.

He said the choice got here quickly: “I actually have to sell my rings and help my country.”

So he put them up for auction online, hoping they’d fetch six figures together. But each of them did, individually, netting greater than 1 / 4 of one million dollars — a record for NBA championship rings.

Medvedenko told CBS News that made him very comfortable: “We are able to spend more cash on the youngsters, and help more kids!”
 
Through the charity he co-founded with a Ukrainian sports journalist, the Fly High Foundation, Medvedenko has helped repair shattered windows and basketball courts at schools that were destroyed by Russian artillery, and send kids to basketball camps. 

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Devean George (3) helps separate forward Slava Medvedenko, right, and Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace during a confrontation within the third quarter of game 4 their NBA Finals in Auburn Hills, Michigan, in a June13, 2004 file photo.

AP/PAUL SANCYA

We asked him which he found more rewarding, winning championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or helping the youngsters in Kyiv.
 
“It’s two different worlds,” he said, describing his younger years with the NBA as a dream come true. “Now I’m more mature, and I feel different. I feel to assist my country, it’s more vital.”

Now Medvedenko has a latest dream: “To get Ukrainians free, healthy and independent.”


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Chris Livesay

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