By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 23, Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said his teammate Alex Len was not at practice the day before the team was to play the Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center.

With worldwide news coverage coming from every major network, Fox was well aware of the situation but really didn’t connect the invasion to Len, 28, who is from Ukraines’ Antratsyt or Antratsit, a city in Eastern Ukraine.

“I wasn’t thinking anything of it at the time,” Fox said following a 128-110 loss to the Nuggets. “But, I was like wow, that’s probably why he was not at practice. But we feel for (Alex) and pray for his family and his country as well.” 

The Kings, Nuggets, and Len united at center court before tipoff for a moment of silence and prayers of peace. Len and Toronto Raptors shooting guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are the only Ukrainian basketball players in the NBA.

Len and Mykhailiuk released a shared statement concerning the situation in their homeland of nearly 44 million people: 

“A great tragedy befell our dear homeland Ukraine. We categorically condemn the war. Ukraine is a peaceful, sovereign state inhabited by people who want to decide their own destiny. We pray for our family, friends, relatives and all the people who are in the territory of Ukraine. We hope for an end to this terrible war as soon as possible. Dear fellow Ukrainians, hold on! Our strength is in unity! We are with you!”

Mykhailiuk, 24, is from Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine with a population of 272,651 people. Mykhailiuk played for the University of Kansas from 2014 to 2018. 

This is Oleksiy “Alex” Len’s second stint with the Kings. He was traded to Sacramento on Feb. 6, 2020, from the Atlanta Hawks. He signed with the Raptors in 2021 but finished the season with the Washington Wizard before returning to Sacramento.

Antratsyt, reported to be an economically depressed mining town 20 miles from the border with Russia, has a population of 55,000 people. In March 2014, while Barack Obama was still president of the United States, Russia aggressively occupied the Crimean peninsula. It was then the largest land-takeover in Europe since World War II.  

The following month, Russia, under the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin,  attacked Ukraine from the east and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from the neighboring country.  Antratsyt was immediately under siege, not having any military presence to offer resistance. 

On Feb. 24, Putin and Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Airstrikes on cities and military bases were followed by Russian troops and tanks entering Ukrainian territories. As of March 1, more than 600,000 refugees have fled Ukraine during Russia’s ongoing invasion.

While the war rages on, Len did not play in the Kings’ first back-to-back game against the Nuggets in Sacramento but took the floor for six minutes on Feb. 26 in Denver, where the team lost 115-110. 

The Kings (23-40) broke a four-game losing streak against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road. Len did not see any action in the 131-110 victory. 

Kings coach Alvin Gentry, who has no problem providing updates about Len’s mental state, said the 7-foot center “knows he has a job to do” in the NBA. But the organization is supporting him in every way possible, the coach said.

“He’s very much concerned,” Gentry said of Len. “As things escalate over there, you just have no idea what’s going on and communication has gotten that much more difficult. I just make sure he knows we’re thinking about him and we’re concerned about his family.”

Fox added, “Obviously, no one wants to be at war. I don’t really have a lot to say about it but that’s something that affects everybody… affects the entire world.”