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Basketball’s Blatt

During the first week of the Beijing Games, the media focused on the Iranian swimmer who skipped a race with an Israeli in the next lane, but not enough attention was paid to the historic handshakes that the entire men’s basketball team of Iran gave to a dual citizen American-Israeli Jew.

That Jew was David Blatt, the head coach of the Russian national men’s basketball team.

(And I bet you didn’t know the head coach of the Russian team was Jewish, either.)

The Boston-born Blatt played basketball at Princeton University from 1977-1981, and participated in the Maccabiah Games as part of the 1981 gold medal USA national team.

After his Maccabiah victory, Blatt began his Israeli hoops career, playing for teams including Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Jerusalem. Blatt made his coaching mark with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Blatt was at times this team’s assistant and head coach, and took Maccabi to win European championships in 2003–04 and 2004–05.

In 2004 he moved to Russia and signed as head coach with Dynamo St. Petersburg. During this year he won the FIBA EuroCup with Dynamo and also the title of “Coach of the Year in Russia.” In the summer of 2006 he was also appointed head coach of the Russian National team, who he led to a European championship win in the 2007 Eurobasket.

“Can you imagine — an American Jewish Israeli?” Blatt said in an interview with a Princeton publication about being offered the national team coaching job

“I was amazed. The Russian team had had an unsuccessful European campaign. They were looking for somebody who could bring some new ideas, and I had had a really good season coaching in St. Petersburg. But I’m sure it was shocking for so many people on both sides of the old Iron Curtain…Forget about the basketball aspect — all I could think about was [Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev] … saying, ‘We will bury you!'”

Blatt was the head coach of the Istanbul-based Turkish team Efes Pilsen, but parted ways with the team this April. Recently Blatt agreed to become the head coach of Dynamo Moscow, though ESPN talks about him eventually moving up to the NBA.

With dual-citizenship it is hard to tell if Blatt is American or Israeli, and some articles even refer to him as a European with all the coaching he has done in Italy, Turkey and Russia. For the 2008 Games, I found him listed in the Olympic News Service as Israeli.

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