With the twenty-fourth pick in the 1999 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz select: Andrei Kirilenko, power-forward out of Frunzenskaya Sport School in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Kirilenko spent ten years with the Jazz and is now celebrating his fortieth birthday.
Nicknamed AK-47 after a popular Russian assault rifle (due to being from Russia and having the initials and jersey number to match), Kirilenko made an immediate impact with the Jazz. His 10 points and 1.9 blocks led him to the NBA All-Rookie first team. That was the only season in which AK played in all 82 games. Sadly, injuries limited the Jazz superstar. When healthy, Kirilenko was a force to be reckoned with.
Kirilenko did not become the full-time starter until his third season. He showed the league how good he was if given the chance.
Kirilenko’s best season came in this season (2003-2004). Kirilenko went from under thirty minutes a night to averaging thirty-seven minutes of playtime. This was AK’s first, and only, NBA All-Star appearance. He averaged 16.5 points, 8 rebounds, and almost 3 blocks a night.
What could be considered a down year the following season still has some memorable moments.
Following his all-star season, Kirilenko led the league with 3.3 blocks a game.
Kirilenko finished his career with the Brooklyn Nets in 2015. However, he only appeared in seven total games for the Nets.
Although Kirilenko is no longer in the league, he always has a strong appearance in the 2k basketball games. Every year, the NBA 2K MyTeam game mode releases numerous Kirilenko cards, and they are usually some of the best cards in the game.
Since his playing days are over, Kirilenko has found ways to stay involved with the sport he loves.
Kirilenko was once the superstar of Russian basketball on the court, and now he has become the literal face of the Russian Basketball Federation as the organization’s commissioner. Unlike the complex power pyramid of the NBA, the Russian Basketball Federation operates as an independent entity.
After 13 seasons in the NBA, Kirilenko retired as a one-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA Defensive Team honoree, and the 2004-2005 NBA leader in blocks.
On behalf of Jazz Nation, happy birthday AK-47.
Featured image courtesy Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images