NBA rookie Omri Casspi is from Israel and plays for the Sacremento Kings, while Iranian center Hamed Haddadi plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Both players come off the bench and were the first players from their countries to play in the NBA
So, what does this all mean?
Well, if you are familiar with international basketball, you know that many Muslim teams generally refuse to play against teams from Israel because of the politics between the two countries.
Most recently, in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Arash Miresmaeili, a gold medal favorite in Judo, withdrew from a match when his opponent turned out to be Israeli Ehud Vaks.
Vaks would win by forfeit, while Arash would be praised by his country’s leaders.
Situations like this is the reason why Israeli clubs and national teams currently compete in European leagues (Euroleague) and tournaments (Eurobasket), instead of in Asia where Israel would run into a many forfeit matches or contentious opponents.
According to AOL Fanhouse: Before his Grizzlies met Denver on Sunday night, Haddadi told FanHouse he never has faced an Israeli player on the court because teams from his Iran, which does not recognize the Jewish nation, are not allowed to play Israel. In 2005, Haddadi said his Iranian team was not allowed to go to Argentina for the 2005 FIBA World Championship for Young Men because of the possibility of Israel being an opponent.
“We don’t go to Argentina because (Israel was playing),’‘ Haddadi said. “I was young. I was (20). I didn’t know about politics or anything. I can’t say, ‘I want to go to Argentina.”
However, don’t expect Haddadi, or Casspi for that matter, to sit this one out because of politics.
“It is just a sport,” Haddadi said. “I don’t know what happened with the two countries. I don’t care. I just do my job. I don’t think about politics … I do not think what the two positions of Iran and Israel is.”
“It’s not a problem for me,” said Casspi.
“I don’t want politics into sports,” said Haddadi. “I think it should be separated.”
Despite that, Haddadi was asked whether there was a chance that he would shake hands with Casspi before the game, in order to make a statement and instill international goodwill?
“Why not? Haddadi said. “Which is his number? I think it could be good (to make a positive statement).”
The two teams will meet again Nov. 23 in Memphis and March 22 in Sacramento.