He was on a fast break in Istanbul when the faucet was thrown from the stands.

It took out the 6-foot-11-inch Turk who was running to his right. It hit the big guy in the head.

For road games in China, he and his teammates sometimes ran onto the court between two rows of police officers holding shields to protect the players from objects thrown by overzealous fans.

And in Tehran, he met a man who told him he prayed every night that the United States would invade his country and free the people.

Chris Herren's basketball odyssey has been troubled at times, but seldom has it been dull.

From Durfee High School in Fall River, R.I., to Boston College to Fresno State to the Denver Nuggets to the Boston Celtics to Greece, Italy, Turkey, China, Poland — he has taken his considerable talent and seen some incredible things.

And last fall, he went to play some ball in the Axis of Evil. He took his game to the very heart of world tension. And he was too close to feel it.

"I never felt a sense of animosity," he says.

He had one very quick reaction when his agent told him that Iran could be the next stop, the next chance for another season.

"I told him he was crazy," said Herren, as we talked in the gastronomic mecca of Fall River, Al Mac's Diner.

He is 30 now, with a wife and two kids and at least a book's worth of basketball memories. He is, in fact, the central figure in Bill Reynolds' "Fall River Dreams," the fine look at Durfee High School's great basketball tradition. Chris and his older brother, Michael, might just be the end of the line, the last stars of what was truly the old town team.

I can remember the night Chris played a sensational game against the University of Massachusetts during his first year at Fresno State. I watched him on television, the local kid lighting up the place. And it was impossible not to get a little rush of hometown pride.

There have been some highs and some serious lows since then. After 2 1/2 seasons in the NBA, he became a basketball vagabond. The guy from Fall River was off to see the world in shorts and sneakers.

"It's a natural progression, moving through the system in Europe," he says. "They see guys coming out of the NBA.

"It's been a great experience. I've enjoyed every single experience in every country I've traveled to. On a personal level, life is easier for me in Europe, outside the country."

Then, last fall, came the strangest stop on this prolonged world tour. Iran is not a basketball hotbed. The Iranians still have problems with the X's and O's, says Herren. And women may sit on only one side of the arena and only in the upper levels.

But the money was good. He showed up, was taken to a very nice guesthouse, and two days later endured his first practice in a country and in a city where Americans were once held hostage and which is regularly vilified by the official voices back home.

But Herren wasn't moving in diplomatic circles. He was playing basketball and doing what a guy from Fall River will do. He walked around and talked to some people. He learned a few words of the language. He had dinner in Iranian homes and talked with women without their headscarfs.

"It's a misconception that Iranians have this hatred toward Americans," he says. "It's the total opposite. Every person I met said how much they despise their government and how much they would like to live in America."

There is always that sense, whenever harsh accusations are lobbed back and forth between countries, that tensions could be considerably eased if just plain old everyday folks could get together beneath the radar and find their common ground.

Chris Herren did a little bit of that. He did what comes naturally. He played some ball and talked to some people. There are no bars, no clubs or theaters in Iran. There is no alcohol, no drugs. Herren sometimes jokes with Bill Reynolds that he should have been sent there five years ago.

So people tend to take their social lives over meals and conversation. And Herren sat down and reached across the great divide and said hello.

Iran is, he says, the friendliest place he has been.

"What I've learned is that people are people," he says. "They're all born with a heart. Everybody has their own problems.

"I never saw the ugly side in Iran. I never even felt it."


Bob Kerr is a columnist for The Providence Journal. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.