Bronze good as gold for Becky Hammon
BEIJING -- Becky Hammon never intended to make a political statement. She simply wanted to play basketball in the Olympics.
And despite criticism she absorbed by deciding to play for Russia here, Hammon said Saturday that the joy of helping her new team unite to win the bronze medal outweighed all the negatives.
"For me, I've worked just as hard for this medal as a gold one, so to me it might as well be," Hammon said after scoring a team-high 22 points while leading Russia to a 94-81 victory over China at Wukesong Arena.
"I wanted to be a positive leader for them and encourage them and just help them believe in themselves. I think if you watched us just a few weeks ago, we didn't have much belief in ourselves."
Hammon wasn't a factor in Russia's semifinal loss to the U.S. earlier this week, scoring just three points. It must have been difficult for her to face women she has played with -- and against -- over the years and to be shunned by most of the U.S. players. However, she seemed to take it in stride.
"They're very tough defensively and they put a lot of focus on me. That's a compliment," she said, wryly. "They're a tough team and for us to come in here, for me just to win and go out on a positive note, that's the bigger picture here.
"I try to do whatever i can to help these girls and I'm looking forward to spending more time with them and explain some things to them a little bit more on the basketball court and just for them to get to know me a little better on the court."
They know enough to recognize her value.
"She is a very important player," teammate Ilona Korstin said. "I am very glad she's on the team. Now she's a real part of our Russian team and she helps us a lot during the game. I hope she will continue to play for the Russian national team."
Hammon left that open, saying only that she planned to return to Texas Sunday and finish out the WNBA season with San Antonio.
"I never doubted my decision to go. I knew I was here for the right reasons," she said.
"Russia and the United States, everyone knows the history there, but we've got to move forward and get past that. You can only hold a grudge for so long. The last time I checked we all bleed red here, so we're all just people, and whether you grow up in the States or in Russia, we all have the same needs for success.
"So to me it's been about uniting people and making friendships on a small level. And if I can impact these girls in a positive way, who's to say they can't go back and influence a nation?"
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Russia's Becky Hammon (in red) drives around China's Song Xiaoyun during the women's basketball bronze medal game at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium on Saturday. Russia defeated China for the bronze. Credit: Jerry Lai / US Presswire