Sporting gesture: Iranian, Israeli share hug after basketball game

Originally Published: August 9, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

BEIJING -- Despite the differences between their countries, an Iranian and an Israeli shared a hug and a pat on the back Sunday morning after the opener of the Olympic men's basketball tournament.

[+] EnlargeIran-Russia
Adi Avishai, Ma'ariv Sports NewspaperIranian center Hamed Ehadadi and David Blatt share a moment of goodwill after the Blatt-coached Russian team beat Iran in the opening game.

The hug between Russian coach David Blatt, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, and Iranian captain Mohammad Nikkhah, came after Nikkhah was questioned by an Israeli journalist about the tensions between the two countries stemming from Iran's nuclear program, which Israel views as a threat to its existence.

On Saturday, Iranian swimmer Mohammad Alirezaei refused to race in a preliminary Olympic heat because Israeli athlete Tom Beeri was competing in the same race.

"We are coming here for playing sport, nothing else," Nikkhah said. As he exited the postgame interview podium, Blatt stood and embraced him, and Nikkhah returned the gesture.

Blatt and Iran's coach, Rajko Toroman, who is Serbian, had a similar exchange as Toroman left the podium. Blatt later warmly greeted Iran's 7-foot-2 center, Hamed Ehadadi.

American expatriate J.R. Holden scored 19 points and had five steals, and Andrei Kirilenko posted 15 points and three blocks for Russia. The team pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 71-49 victory over Iran in a game that tipped off at 9 a.m. local time.

Viktor Khryapa of Russia, who was held out of his team's tune-up games because of an ankle injury, played 20 minutes and shot 4-for-5, re-entering the game midway through the third quarter and leading the charge as Russia closed out the game with a 25-13 run.

"People don't know how badly he's injured. He has a torn ligament, and he opted to play rather than have surgery," Blatt said. "He's about 60 percent -- and 40 percent is physical and 20 percent is heart."

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.