Ovechkin's parents want to thank you
"I want to make a comment," Alex Ovechkin's father, Mikhail, said more than an hour into our interview last week. "Will it appear in the newspaper or not?"
It was a balmy evening on a patio in Ballston, and I had been peppering Mikhail and his wife with questions about their son: his youth career, his on-ice achievements and his occasional controversies. Things were wrapping up, and I was getting ready to tell them about my love for Dostoevsky, when Mikhail said he had something to say. I asked him whether he wanted this to be in the newspaper.
"Konechno," he said -- "of course" -- and I was so proud of myself for understanding his Russian that I sort of agreed. I was expecting some sort of manifesto about hockey and life, but instead, the father of D.C.'s best athlete turned gooier than cherry preserves.
"Tatiania and I are very happy that Alex was drafted by the Washington Capitals," Mikhail said, gesturing to his wife. "We're very happy with the organization and the ownership, and with where he is right now, and with where the organization is right now. We're very happy who he's surrounded by."
"I want to say I'm very grateful and satisfied, not just with how Alex is being treated, but with how the whole family is being treated," Tatiana chimed in, mentioning her older son Mikhail, who works for the Washington Mystics. "He's being well respected, and he works with passion, and Misha in return is very respectful to his peers and very appreciative of the opportunity that was given to him.
"We're also very grateful to George McPhee for his initial welcoming of Alex," Tatiana continued, "in which George brought him to his house, gave him a roof and food, provided accommodations, made Alex feel welcome.
"I don't know whether it's proper or not," she said, "but I would also like to thank Mr. Leonsis for caring, for being involved with our family affairs, for being willing to help if we have any questions or concerns. We trust these people. I would like to emphasize that many family questions we come upon, we run by Mr. Leonsis for his opinion, his input, his advice. For example, in consideration of purchasing a house, in relation to where to make certain investments, and just day-to-day questions, typically we present these to Mr. Leonsis seeking his opinion and his recommendations."
Ok, this might not be great journalism, but I had sort of given them my word. And Leonsis, in case there's any question, had reciprocated the love during an hour I recently spent in his office. It's just like Tolstoy wrote: happy sports franchises are all alike, but each unhappy sports franchise is unhappy in its own way.
"His mother, at every game, says hi, gives me a hug, comes in the box on occasion," Leonsis told me. "And the reason they like me is they know I have their son's best interests at heart. It's an authenticness. I do, I love the kid. He's a great kid, and I've watched him grow up. And the good news, there's a double bottom line to Alex Ovechkin, right? He's a brother from another planet, he's a once in a generation player, and he's like this really nice kid."
Ovechkin's parents live at his house for months at a time; his mom cooks him stuffed cabbage and meat dumplings and washes and presses his clothes, and his dad accompanies him to the sauna and is a regular at the practice rink. When we chatted, they had been thinking of going down to the reflecting pool to take a family portrait with the cherry blossoms. Out of curiosity, I asked Ovechkin why he asked his parents to stay with him.
"Why I have to live without them?" Ovechkin asked me. "If they come here to be with them, they have to stay in a hotel?"
You just don't think of many 24-year old multi-millionaire bachelors living for months at a time with their parents, I tried to say; that some people would rather be on their own.
"Maybe some people," Ovechkin said. "But not me."
"We also would like mention, and are thinking about the supporting staff," Tatiana said back on the patio, rattling off the doctors, and public relations staffers, and other behind-the-scenes folks.
Next it was Mikhail's turn again; he wanted to thank IMG for helping them with Alex's marketing efforts. Then Tatiana thought of someone else to thank.
"Now they're bringing me into the picture," our bashful interpreter, family adviser George Landa said, as she thanked him in Russian.
Alex's dad had thought of another one.
"We would also like for you to mention, we have a special group of fans that is constantly present during Alex's practices," he said, referring to the team's fan club. "They support him, and they have some sort of small trophy that they're giving to Alex at the beginning of the season for the prior season, for his performance. They are very loyal to him and are there during his morning skates."
That concluded his list. He sat back.
"I expect you to put everything in writing," he told me.
I pointed out that he had yet to thank The Washington Post.
"A very good paper!" he agreed. "Whenever there are pictures of Alex or an article, I cut them out and send them to Russia."
Well, here's another one.
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