Former Los Angeles Lakers player Slava Medvedenko has decided to sell his two NBA championship rings to raise money for his native Ukraine.
Medvedenko, a forward on the Lakers’ championship teams in 2001 and ’02, playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, says he has contracted SCP Auctions who will be donating the entire final sale price of both rings to Medvedenko’s Fly High Foundation.
The goal of the foundation is to support Ukrainian children by restoring the sports infrastructure of the country’s schools and launching a network of social sports clubs, most of which have been destroyed by Russia’s invasion of the country.
“We want to restore gyms because the Russian army bombed more than a hundred schools,” he told the Associated Press by phone on Sunday, July 24
“Our country, they need a lot of money to fix the schools. Sports gyms are going to be last in the line to fix it. In Ukraine, we have winter and kids need to play inside.”
The auction runs from Wednesday, July 27 through Aug. 5. The Laguna Niguel, California-based company estimates both rings will raise at least $100,000.
Medvedenko said he decided to sell the rings after going to the roof of one of the tallest buildings in his Kyiv neighborhood and watching rockets launched by Russian forces streak through the night sky.
“In this moment I just decided, ‘Why do I need these rings if they’re just sitting in my safe?’” Medvedenko said. “I just recognize I can die. After that, I just say I have to sell them to show people leadership, to help my Ukrainian people to live better, to help kids.”
Medvedenko spoke from Warsaw, Poland, where he staged a sold out charity basketball game to raise money for Ukrainian refugees who crossed the border to escape the war.
“In Ukraine, you’re just feeling it’s war, rockets, air alerts. You’re so used to that kind of pressure,” he said. “As soon as you cross the border and see how people live normal life, it’s a different world.”
Medvedenko, is married with two daughters, ages 16 and 11, and a 10-year-old son.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Medvedenko, 43, sent his children to live with their grandmother in another part of the country.
“After they stay for 1 1/2 months, they were all the time calling me and asking, ‘Papa, can we come home? We want to be with you and Momma,’” he recalled.
Five months into the war, Medvedenko has reunited his family in Kyiv.
“We have air alerts almost every day. Sometimes it’s three or four times a day,” he said. “The kids are so used to it. They play in our backyard. They not even stop playing they are used to it.”
Medvedenko also served in Ukraine’s territorial defense forces during the war.
“We were defending our neighborhood, doing checkpoints and duty patrol. I’m not the best soldier, I’m not the best shooter, but I can give them support,” he said, adding that he carried an AK-47.
“I shoot it a couple times, not at people. I’m happy I don’t have a chance to shoot somebody. Our army did a great job to defend Kyiv. I want to thank them.”