Quite a Dynamo — Hansen and wife make a difference in Moscow

Published: Wednesday, April 23 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Travis Hansen and his wife, LaRee, gaze at a Russian orphan infant in a hospital, part of a Little Heroes charity in Moscow founded by LaRee.

Courtesy of Travis Hansen family

Travis Hansen isn't the Ugly American in Russia.

Playing basketball for Moscow's Dynamo, one of the top teams in the European League, Hansen, his wife, LaRee, and 5-year-old son, Ryder, have made a significant impact in the part of the world that was once considered enemy territory, a place where spies seemingly lurked at every turn in a country deemed the "evil empire" during the Cold War.

No, Hansen is representing his American heritage very well. So respected is Hansen that, in a rare act that usually takes years, Russian President Vladimir Putin personally signed papers establishing the former Mountain View High and BYU star as a nationalized Russian citizen, granting him a Russian passport.

Along with former Bucknell point guard J.R. Holden, Hansen is only the third American basketball player to be given dual citizenship status by the former Soviet Republic.

This opens the door for Hansen to play alongside Jazzman Andrei Kirilenko on the Russian Olympic team in China this summer — if he chooses to or is invited. Hansen has already had talks with the Russian Olympic coach, who told him he might have to give up his short off-season, cut his vacation trip to Lake Powell and Utah short, and be prepared to train for the China Olympics.

"It's a lifetime dream of every basketball player to be an Olympian," said Hansen, whose Dynamo team just finished in the top three of the 54-team European League championships in Italy. "It's exciting. We'll have to see what happens."

Hansen was the 37th pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, a second-rounder to Atlanta, 14 picks before New Jersey drafted current Utah Jazz shooting guard Kyle Korver out of Creighton University.

Hansen and Houston Rockets rookie Luis Scola were teammates in Spain a few years ago. Scola's wife and daughter will stay with LaRee — who just returned from Russia on Sunday — when the Rockets come to Utah for Games 3 and 4 in their first-round playoff series against the Jazz.

That Hansen formerly played in the NBA and was drafted has made a huge difference in how he's been treated and paid in Europe — with stops in Spain before settling in Moscow — and he has always played in the top leagues. His agent, Bill Duffy, with BDA Sports Management, also represents Steve Nash, Carmelo Anthony and Yao Ming. Hansen just signed a three-year, multimillion-dollar pact to stay with Dynamo.

Russia loves their American players. Hansen has rock-star status in Moscow, where he's playing shooting guard. The American on Russia's Olympic roster will either be Holden, a point guard who's playing for Cska, the chief rival of Dynamo, or Hansen. They won't take both.

Asked via an Internet phone hookup from Moscow how it feels to be "red," the color worn by BYU's hated rival Utah, Hansen said with a laugh, "I knew that was coming."

"Actually, the Russian people are great. I love it here. We live in an English-speaking settlement with a great LDS branch. Our neighbors are lawyers and executives of oil companies and people who work at the U.S. Embassy. We have our own grocery store, and the basketball here is just awesome. My son plays on a team every Saturday."

The Dynamo take care of players like Hansen. Euroleague teams are restricted in how many Americans they can put on their roster at a time and how many foreigners they can have on the floor at the same time. Hansen was getting about 24 minutes a game. Now that he has Russian citizenship, his minutes may increase significantly.

Of course, the competitors don't like the move. In a courtesy vote taken of the 54 Euroleague teams asking if Hansen should be given Russian citizenship, 53 voted no.

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