Like most owners, Kalmanovich says he loses money on his team. Unlike most owners, his claims are believable. Spartak averaged approximately 3,000 fans a game, but the specific attendance doesn't really matter because tickets are free (the plan is to get fans hooked, then start charging admission). He says the team also pays to have its games televised. With salaries, travel, publicity, overhead and a youth basketball school his wife manages, Kalmanovich estimates this year's expenses would run $5 million to $6 million. And how much revenue does he take in? "There is no revenue. I take in nothing."
When basketball is your passion and you're part of the new Russian oligarchy, what is $6 million over the course of a season? One person said he saw Kalmanovich go through $1 million in a single weekend trip to France.
"I have friends who go to casinos," Kalmanovich said. "I know friends who risk on the stock exchange. I am Lithuanian — for me, basketball is everything. It is a hobby, a pleasure, a casino, whatever you want."
"There are six or seven owners [like him] in Russia," Taurasi said. "They're hotheads who want the best women's basketball team, and that's their hobby, so they don't care how much they pay."
The beneficiaries of this competition for talent are the players. WNBA salaries are strictly slotted based on a narrow range of maximums and minimums determined by seasons of service and year of entry. In the former Soviet Union, Bird and Taurasi can offer their services through the free market system to earn the best basketball salaries offered in Europe.
"It's not even comparable," Bird said. "There's been a huge increase in the last two years."
There are also lucrative incentive bonuses — $5,000 for beating a good team on the road — plus the free house, the drivers, etc. Heck, all they're missing is a posse.
"What is the difference between Barbra Streisand, Madonna and Diana Taurasi?" Kalmanovich asked between nibbles from a spread of black caviar and blini before a Spartak game. "Madonna, Taurasi — it doesn't make any difference that one is attracting people by singing and the other is attracting people by scoring. Why should Madonna have cars, drivers, security and not our players?"
You won't hear many WNBA owners express this view.
I thought it was a good read. The guy bank-rolling that Russian team must be on drugs though