Former Laker Slava Medvedenko joins military reserve to help defend native Ukraine

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One of the heroic storylines out of the devastating Russian invasion of Ukraine has been ordinary citizens picking up rifles and doing their part to defend their native land. It is one of the many things Vladimir Putin and the Russian military wildly underestimated before the invasion.

One of those average Ukrainians? Stanislav “Slava” Medvedenko, the two-time NBA champion as a backup big man to Shaq during the Shaq/Kobe era Lakers — Kobe and Slava were tight.

Bill Oram of The Athletic has the must-read story of the day, where Medvedenko talks about picking up an AK-47 to help defend his Kyiv neighborhood.

For four hours every day he watches the road that stretches to the suburban battlefield and anticipates the moment the Russians will come. His efforts serve as a snapshot of the stiff civilian resistance experts have said Russian forces were not prepared to meet…

Fifteen years since he last appeared in an NBA game, Medvedenko calls his playing days like a dream right now. “War,” he says, “is time to open something different in yourself.”

Since the Feb. 24 invasion, Medvedenko, who had no previous military training, has served in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, the reserve unit of the country’s military.

Things have been calmer in Kyiv of late as the Russian military has scaled its goals way back and focused on the eastern edge of Ukraine. Still, the 6’10” Medvedenko sticks out in his defense force squad, a massive human being whose presence can be reassuring to those around him.

To the Lakers who knew him, that Medvedenko would put himself in harm’s way like that to protect his family and neighborhood is not a surprise. From Mark Madson to Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss, they said this fit his personality. Medvedenko moved his family to the western part of Ukraine, away from the fighting, but he stayed to protect his Kyiv neighborhood (even though Ukrainian men with three-or-more children were allowed to leave and not join the defense forces).

It’s worth reading the entire story of how the seven-year NBA veteran — who also had an extensive playing career in Europe before and after his time in the NBA, and played for the Hawks as well as the Lakers — has been impacted by the war brought to his nation. And it’s an insight into why Ukraine’s people and military have been able to resist the Russian invasion force.