Israeli-Iranian peace in the NBA

Sports—truly the great equalizer. See that handshake? That’s a handshake between two men whose homeland’s are locked in their own rhetorical and existential battles. On the left, Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA. And on the right, Hamed Haddadi, the league’s first Iranian.

I imagine Jordan Farmar appreciates the company.

Casspi and Haddadi met at center court Monday night when the Sacramento Kings played the Memphis Grizzlies. Though Haddadi didn’t get into the game, the handshake was symbolic nonetheless:

There are players in the NBA from Turkey and Senegal, but both those nations have diplomatic relations with Israel. Iran is the world’s only predominately Muslim country that has an NBA player and does not recognize Israel.

“As one of the biggest cliches regarding the Israel-Arab conflict would say, ‘It’s not the people of Israel and Iran who hate each other, it’s the leaders,’‘’ said Eran Soroka, basketball writer for the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv. “A lot of people emigrated from Iran to Israel during the last decades, and you can find Israeli and Iranian citizens dancing to the same music in clubs in, for example, Turkey. The NBA is also a frame which is completely different from the Middle East tension: Haddadi, for that matter, is an Americanized Iranian… He already accepted the challenge of playing for his country’s nemesis (the United States).’‘


In 2006, Iranian president Mahmoud Admadinejad said he wanted to “wipe Israel off the map’’ and was said to have called the Holocaust, Nazi German’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II, a “myth.’’ He later denied he made comments that the Holocaust did not happen.

Haddadi has tried to steer clear of all this.

“I don’t want politics into sports,’’ said Haddadi, 24. “I think it should be separated.’‘

If only Ahmadinejad played footie.

After the jump, hear the commentary about Haddadi that got Clippers announcers Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith suspended: