Russian terror dooms Jazz trip
Security concerns pull plug this year on Moscow game
The Utah Jazz were really getting energized by the approach of their scheduled trip to Moscow to play CSKA, Andrei Kirilenko's former team, in an NBA preseason opener on Oct. 8.
"This whole adventure of going to Moscow was a really big deal," Jazz president Dennis Haslam said.
But for now the trip is off: The NBA announced Friday that it has postponed the trip until possibly next year due to security concerns fueled by recent terrorist acts by Chechen extremists. A rebel leader also claimed responsibility Friday for an attack at a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan that killed more than 300 people, half of them children, and for the downing of two passenger planes.
"All of us are disappointed by the news" of the cancellation, Haslam said. "The entire team was looking forward not only to a competitive game but a wonderful cultural exchange with the Russian people during the trip."
Haslam added that the Jazz were planning a number of side trips in Moscow to visit an orphanage, conduct children's clinics, attend a reception at the U.S. embassy and distribute the clothing collected last season at a Jazz game for a Kirilenko children's charity.
Kirilenko in particular was looking forward to the Moscow trip.
"He was very disappointed," Haslam said. Kirilenko was contacted Thursday by phone by Haslam and basketball operations vice president Kevin O'Connor and told the NBA was considering taking the action.
"Andrei said, 'Naturally, I am disappointed, but my hope is to reschedule the game next year so I can show my teammates my homeland,' " Haslam relayed.
Channel NewsAsia quoted Kirilenko as saying, "I'm bitterly disappointed. My teammates really wanted to visit Moscow. The match could become one of the brightest sports events in the Russian capital."
For his part, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "I'm disappointed from Andrei's standpoint because it was something he was looking forward to doing, and I think our players were looking forward to doing it with him.
"And, of course, there was a lot of people that put a lot of work into it to get ready to go, and that's disappointing as well.
"But someone probably felt more positive about us not going than we realize, so that's why we're not going, I guess."
Haslam and Sloan said they had some trepidation about making the trip but would not have asked for its postponement. Sloan was prepared "to just go on about our business. Any situation, you're always concerned just the nature of what we do traveling all the time," he said.
The news left the Jazz scrambling to rearrange their training-camp timetable. It changes a lot, said O'Connor.
Because they are not going out of the country to play, the Jazz must start camp at the same time as all other NBA teams not traveling internationally for preseason games.
That means player physicals, team meetings and media day will be held on Oct. 4 instead of Oct. 1, and the first practice will be Oct. 5. The first preseason game is Oct. 17 vs. Seattle in Spokane.
Utah's financial losses won't be bad because the NBA is responsible for much of the tally. But the Jazz must pay to bring players to Utah for training camp. Haslam did not think many of those plans will be changed, guessing players will just arrive a few days before camp starts and have more time to acclimate.
Some are already here Carlos Boozer, Raul Lopez and Curtis Borchardt and working out, and others will likely join them as they trickle in.
The Jazz do not have to find a replacement game, but Haslam said they are looking into filling that void. "We have a blank now for 10 days," he said. Some of that will be erased by the later starting date for camp. "We'll come up with something."
Exhibition schedules are made up more than a year in advance, and playing CSKA next year would probably mean a change in an already-scheduled game.
The NBA's official news release on the postponement said, "The league will work together with the CSKA club to reschedule the game at a date to be determined."
It quoted NBA commissioner David Stern as saying, "We are saddened that it will not be possible for the Jazz to play CSKA Moscow next month. Most importantly, I would like to express my deepest condolences for what the Russian people have endured in recent weeks. Our thoughts remain with them."
Channel NewsAsia blamed the Jazz for the change. "Russian basketball champions CSKA Moscow said they were disappointed that NBA giants Utah Jazz had pulled out of a planned exhibition match here because of security fears," it said.CSKA President Alexander Gomelsky told Channel NewsAsia, "Moscow city hall had supplied our North American partners with all possible security guarantees, but unfortunately the NBA headquarters decided to avoid any possibility of a risk and called off the match. We understand the reasons for the decision and share their fears concerning the current situation in Russia, but we are not supposed to give up and will definitely hold the match here in 2005." No American team has played in Russia since 1988, when the Atlanta Hawks played the Soviet national club.
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