Skip to main content

US and Iran to play in basketball at Tokyo Olympics

Some Iranians have played basketball in the United States and there is an American on Iran's national team, despite poor relations between the two governments.
Hamadi takes shot

The United States and Iran will face off in basketball at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Wednesday. 

The American and Iranian men’s national basketball teams are in the same group for the early round of the global competition, and will play one another in each team’s second Olympic match. 

The United States and the Islamic Republic do not have formal relations and have historically been in conflict. Iran-backed militias in Iraq regularly attack US military positions in the country, and the US military in turn bombs them. On the other hand, the two states are currently holding indirect talks on a possible US return to the Iran nuclear agreement. 

The animosity between the two states has not prevented them from competing on the court. The national men’s basketball teams also played in 2010 at an international championship. 

Basketball actually links the two countries in several ways. Iranian center Hamed Haddadi was the first and only Iranian to play in North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA), which is the premier league in the sport. Forward Arsalan Kazemi played top-level college basketball in the United States for the Oregon Ducks. 

The Iranian team also has an American on its roster in forward Michael Rostampour. Born in the northern US state of Minnesota, Rostampour’s father is from Abadan in the southwestern province of Khuzestan

Rostampour said in January that he is happy to represent his father’s home country. 

“It's a true honor, I love playing for the Iranians and these are my brothers and sisters over here, definitely,” he told the International Basketball Federation. 

He also expressed a desire to play the top Americans at the international level at the time. 

“I want to play against the NBA guys,” said Rostampour. 

Some Americans have also played professional basketball in Iran.

The Iranian team’s athletes play professionally around the world, including in Germany and China. Iran lost to the Czech Republic in their first Olympic game. 

The United States is the world’s basketball super power, but lost to France in its first game in Tokyo. Still, the US team, led by Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, is heavily favored against Iran heading into Wednesday’s matchup. 

Soccer remains the dominant sport in the Middle East, but basketball is growing in popularity. Turkey and Israel have also produced NBA players. 

More from Adam Lucente

Recommended Articles