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Ever since the Manhattan Project blessed us with fission weapons, the world has placed bets on who wants to blow each other up next. Currently, the smart money lies with the United States, Iran and North Korea. Kim Jong-il’s boys couldn’t make the trip to Turkey this time around, so it’s been left to the first two to carry the nuclear torch in Istanbul. And on the eve of their impending Group B battle, the discussion has focused more on launching missiles than shooting jumpers.
It seems that yet again, people are doing whatever they can to defile a perfectly enjoyable week of sport with unnecessary international feather ruffling. Last I checked, neither Mike Krzyzewski nor Kevin Durant has access to the red button, and Arsalan Kazemi hadn’t run for public office. When either of those things change then I’ll be happy to contemplate the broad-brushed take on this game as a symbolic clash between two sworn enemies. They’re simply stoking fires that were never burning to begin with.
Tonight when a ‘U-S-A’ chant breaks out in the crowd, the vocally passionate Iranian contingent will respond with a chorus of ‘boos’, and—as has been the case thus far—the rest of the arena will follow suit. This doesn’t mean we want to draw swords and start World War III in the middle of the Abdi Ipekci Arena. It doesn’t mean that Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi—teammates on the Memphis Grizzlies—harbor ill will toward one another. We’ve certainly got our differences when it comes to religious ideologies and cultural values, but who doesn’t? A philosophically homogeneous world would deem travel obsolete and, hence, this tournament as well. The beauty of FIBA lies not in the final scores and statistics, but in this tournament’s role as a platform for 24 different countries to converge for two weeks and give the rest of the world a glimpse at their rendition of a game we all trust.
Just as Croatia and Slovenia stowed their border disputes long enough to give us a classic on Monday night, the United States and Iran are coming off victories and would very much like to end this evening with a win.
So blowing each other up can wait until tomorrow. Tonight in Istanbul, we’re going to play some basketball.