Vladimir Konstantinov, a former Detroit Red Wings defenseman, picked out the shirt and tie he will wear Saturday night when he is inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
“He is very excited about Saturday,” said James Bellanca Jr., Konstantinov’s longtime lawyer and friend. “He knows something special is happening. Whether he can comprehend the meaning of it, I don’t know.”
And that’s the part that breaks your heart.
Konstantinov is one of the most beloved athletes in Detroit sports history. He was known as the Vladinator, a tough, physical defender from Russia who helped the Wings win the 1997 Stanley Cup, ending a 42-year drought.
But he is also one of the most tragic athletes in Detroit sports history, suffering a career-ending, life-threatening spinal cord injury in a limo crash just six days after winning the Cup.
Twenty-two years later, Konstantinov lives in a condo in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where he gets the best care available. His wife and daughter live in Florida but visit regularly. He requires 24-hour assistance from a team of caregivers, who have been with him for years. “I think he’s happy,” Bellanca said. “There are three or four ladies who take care of him, most of whom have been with him for 18 or 20 years. Those ladies are wonderful. They treat him like their child.”
The women cook his meals, feed him, bathe him and help him get dressed. Most of the caregivers speak Russian because he has a tendency to mix English with his native tongue. “He speaks both Russian and English, not very much of either, but he can communicate, and he responds to either,” Bellanca said. “I think he’s comfortable with his surroundings and the people who take care of him.”
Konstantinov lives a simple life. He goes to rehab, spends time at Costco — he enjoys shopping — likes to go bowling and thoroughly enjoys being around people. He can get around using a walker and loves to play Uno, the card game.