BallinEurope was going to run its Euroleague Power Rankings — and perhaps a paean to Dimitris Diamantidis’ deceptively excellent play in Panathinaikos’ win over Unicaja Malaga last week — this morning, but a greater issue calls. BiE feels a rant coming on, so let’s present part one of the power rankings for the week, instead. We’ll do this in reverse order this time, starting the list with…
16 (↓↓↓). BC Khimki Moscow region (2-1 Euroleague Top 16, 7-5 overall; 8-3 VTB United League). Why, despite a solid win against PGE Turow in the VTB yesterday and decent play (at least for 30 minutes) last week against scary-hot Bobby Brown and Montepaschi Siena? Why else but finances, that bane of existence for apparently nearly every basketball club in Europe in the ’10s…?
Within a few hours, the entire roster of BC Khimki is set to strike, thanks to the club’s failure to pay player salaries for three months; naturally, this paucity points to greater financial realities and the VTB League’s official site brings us to the reality of Khimki’s extinction: “One of the most interesting teams in Russia, and all of Europe, might cease to exist in the near future in the form we know it now.”
The VTB piece diplomatically goes on to note that “According to the press, Khimki’s financial problems arose after they changed presidents.” (More on this below.)
The decision was announced earlier in the week and this morning Eurobasket.com quotes an unnamed player as stating yesterday that “It seems we have reached a deadlock. We still haven’t received notice from the board that we will get the money.”
Said source went on to reiterate that “From tomorrow we won’t practice until we get all [back-due pay] … We won’t attend the Euroleague match on Friday against Maccabi Tel Aviv if we don’t get every penny that they owe us. It will be the board’s decision to play with the junior team or to [forfeit the game].” While headlining the club as on the verge of bankruptcy, the English-language Russia Times even went so far as to relay the message from an unnamed source close to the club that “Some of [the Khimki players] have bids from other teams.”
Eurobasket.com goes on to quote another unnamed source claiming “there is a slim chance that the board will get all the money for the players [before Tuesday].” BallinEurope will try to reserve judgement here, but admits to pessimism, particularly in light of club president Andrey Nechaev’s post-game meet with Khimki players last night.
Nobody comes to the games to see the owner/president/GM, as the old saw goes, but suddenly a guy who haven’t suited up for a single play holds this club’s season and future in his hands. So who is Nechaev, the apparent engineer of this disaster? Perhaps this question might have been more thoroughly asked upon BC Khimki’s hiring of the man back in August: Nechaev’s CV shows that he hasn’t worked in basketball since year 2000, during which time the unfortunate tendency to leave player salaries unpaid (not that this was ever a serious issue with his then-employer CSKA Moscow) has gone from acceptable practice in Europe to disastrous, apocalyptic-level decision in most reputable domestic leagues.
Of course, who exactly Mr. Nechaev is takes a backseat to his “plan” currently unfurling (or unravelling) for Khimki. Russian-language Sport Express this morning posted a revealing if brief piece featuring Nechaev and Oleg Zholobov, a man whose nicely Russian job title reads “Acting Minister of Physical Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Work, Moscow region.” Having taken up the post as of December 1, 2012 and before that serving as deputy to the post, Zholobov is thus tasked with addressing the BC Khimki crisis — for which he is reportedly working feverishly.
Amid dealing with a barrage of phone calls, Zholobov definitely sees the problems as management-originated and knowingly perpetuated. The regional government, he explains, “complied with all its obligations. I understand that most of the allocated subsidy for BC Khimki goes to player salaries, but this situation should not happen. When you invite costly stars [without enough] advertisers and sponsors, it’s playing with fire!”
Blame for the crisis must be placed on Nechaev et al, Zholobov justifiably maintains, stating that this situation might not even have occurred at all: “When the club is playing in three tournaments and playing well, it requires significant funding. But this should be taken care of before [opening day] and not at a time when the money has run out…”
On the plus side, Zholobov’s heart in the right place publicly; “I see that Khimki have debts to pay,” he says, “and I’m trying to do the best in making a difference.” Unfortunately, his plan depends on finding a sponsor right quick — like, within a week. When the Express’ scribe skeptically notes that Khimki has in fact never had a major sponsor, Zholobov shoots back with “I’m sorry. Khimki is a popular brand that would attract the attention of major companies.”
As for playing basketball itself, BC Khimki took care of business against the reigning Polish champions PGE Turow in a decisive 91-72 victory that marked the team’s 17th consecutive home win. The 2,300 in attendance reportedly provided continuous verbal support throughout the match, followed by a long post-game ovation for their beleagured side. Such devotion proves TalkBasket’s Facebook post of this morning, in which fans lament that “Khimki without basketball is like an ocean with water.”
And then, the post-game. Nechaev addressed the players in the locker room after the game in a meeting that he described to Sport Express as “emotional.” (No kidding.) Said the president in eliptically rhetorical fashion: “We told each other the truth. I explained to the players that it would take a week to get the appropriate guarantees on the implementation of all prior commitments.”
Nechaev brushed off legions of accusations from his players that he’d essentially been dodging their inquiries throughout the pay-free period, insisting that “I do not hide from anyone. Every day I’m at work, answering calls, [with open door],” while doing a bit of buck-passing with “A certain lack of communication was due to disruptions to the regional offices: I did not want to come to the players with nothing.”
Concludes Nechaev, “I’m not ashamed of any one day as president of BC Khimki. My work is performed in good faith, and I’m doing everything in my power.”
Glad that Nechaev can sleep at night, then, because his team’s fans certainly have a lot of restlessness ahead. With the players unlikely to crumble with lame promises of another seven-day delay all to go on, a forfeit to Maccabi — and an egregious end to a notable winning streak, indeed — at this moment appears inevitable.
And the dehydration of another European basketball power continues…