Before the Lakers had a Robert Sacre or an Adam Morrison, there was Slava Medvedenko. A bit-part role player in the early 2000s, Medvedenko earned a pair of rings in his seven NBA seasons, spending six with the Lakers.
He only had one season in which he averaged more than 11 minutes per game, the same season he also nearly doubled his scoring output as he averaged 8.3 points in 21.2 minutes per game in 2003-04. That season, though, accounted for well over one-third of his points and minutes of his career, as he was often a backseat figure for the purple and gold.
Still, like those that came after him, Medvedenko became a fan favorite to point back and ask “remember him?” as the years have gone by.
However, in those years that have passed since he last played in 2007 — and specifically in the last handful of months — Medvedenko’s life has taken a drastic twist. Born in Ukraine, Medvedenko’s life, like so many others, was flipped on its head when Russia invaded the country earlier this year. But rather than seek refuge, Medvedenko stayed in Ukraine, Kyiv specifically, to defend his country.
Back in May, Bill Oram of The Athletic caught up with Medvedenko for a truly great profile on what he is doing now, which included a quote from Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and her lack of surprise at Medvedenko’s heroic decision.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss called Medvedenko, who never averaged more than 8.3 points in a season, “an ultimate role player.” That was something she thought of as she learned that he had not fled Kyiv, but instead took up arms to defend his country.
“You say, ‘OK, that matches the character of who that person is,’” she said. “And playing basketball isn’t life and death, but it is a reflection of who we are and what we bring.”
Slava Medvedenko won a pair of NBA titles backing up Shaquille O’Neal. Now, the former Laker is inviting @SHAQ to Kyiv to support the Ukrainian war effort, which has found Medvedenko armed and patrolling his neighborhood for saboteurs. https://t.co/oulaYq4VSz— Bill Oram (@billoram) May 23, 2022
In October, NBA on TNT provided another update:
"It's kind of scary but we don't have a choice. We have to just defend our city."— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) October 20, 2022
Tonight's @NBAonTNT pregame coverage will feature a special from Kyiv with @Lakers two-time NBA Champion Slava Medvedenko, who has served in the Ukraine's defenses against Russia. pic.twitter.com/nlnpms8iRX
On top of his literal on-the-ground support of Ukraine, Medvedenko has also sought out just about any way possible to help financially support his country.
Given his stature as a former Laker, that has included auctioning off all sorts of memorabilia, including his championship rings from the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. And in a gesture of support, the Lakers stepped in to not only help provide supplies for a basketball camp Medvedenko plans to run for children affected by the war, but to replace his rings after he sold them to raise over $250,000 for the Ukrainian military.
Medvedenko is doing everything he can to support the Ukrainian army, which for a former NBA star has included auctioning off virtually all memorabilia from his playing days. He said he has already sold T-shirts, jerseys and sneakers. Next up: His championship rings, a process for which he has sought assistance from the Lakers.
The organization has offered to help however it can, including preparing a shipment of sports gear to send to Ukraine. In an email, Lakers executive Linda Rambis told Medvedenko that if he sold his rings, the team would replace them.
“I’m proud that we’re an organization that our former players know when they need help that somebody will answer their call,” Buss said.
Lakers governor Jeanie Buss just presented Slava Medvedenko with replacement championship rings at a Lakers fan event after he sold his to help his home country of Ukraine fight the war against Russia. pic.twitter.com/qOdRWomV5w— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) January 24, 2023
It’s hard to fathom what Medvedenko and those in Ukraine are going through. Oram’s profile — which is really a must-read — details missiles routinely flying over his apartment, and Medvedenko’s courage in facing these moments head-on is admirable. And the Lakers stepping up to aid him in a number of ways is terrific to see as well.
So, here’s to Medvedenko staying safe amid those unfathomable circumstances, and to the Lakers and all others for helping him and the country out.