Honestly, we weren’t really sure what to expect out of the US-Iran matchup Wednesday.
We didn't expect any trouble per se, certainly not between the teams, but given the tensions between the countries for the last 42 years, who knows? The Iranians might have simply refused to play, as Iranian athletes are routinely told to do in individual sports when they have to face Israelis.
When the US and Iran met in the 1998 World Cup, the Iranians (Team B) were ordered not to approach the US team (Team A) first, as custom dictated.
The US agreed to reverse protocol and the Iranians greeted them with flowers.
All in all, it was pretty cool. One player said “[w]e did more in 90 minutes than the politicians did in 20 years.”
Wednesday’s game turned out to be pretty cool too. The US killed Iran, but the players got along swimmingly. Mohammad Jamshidijafarabadi asked Devin Booker if they could do a picture and the guys in general just had a nice moment after the game.
And actually it was a similar story when a US wrestling team went to Iran in 2017.
In a lot of ways, this hasn’t been a great Olympic games. First, there’s the pandemic. A heat wave has made outdoor events really tough. Several celebrated athletes have fallen short or simply stopped competing.
But what happened between the US and Iran on a basketball court really underscores that the Olympics is a chance to put differences aside and to concentrate on what we have in common.
We’ve seen this many time of course, notably when German Luz Long befriended Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Games, giving him a tip that helped Owens to win the long jump.
He didn’t have to do it and he had to know that his goose-stepping Nazi overlords would not be pleased. But he did it anyway.
The Olympics have had issues and crises since 1936 but the basic impulse behind the games, that people can put differences aside and listen to our better angels, even if only for a couple of weeks every four years, endures.