1 of 7
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Utah Jazz player Andrei Kirilenko carries the Russian flag to lead out the Russian delegation during the opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics at the National Stadium Friday in Beijing.

BEIJING — Andrei Kirilenko obviously didn't need any practice carrying the Russian flag, leading out his nation's Olympic delegation in the parade of athletes during Friday's opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Games.

"I never tried holding it," said Kirilenko before the ceremonies, admitting he had no idea what to expect. "I think how I walk and (my) smiling will be more important. I will just show up and my height will help."

The Utah Jazz forward and star of the Russian men's basketball team walked tall, proud and visibly content with his flag-bearing duties at National Stadium. He was one of five professional basketball players who ended up carrying their respective national flags.

"It's a great honor, and not just for me — for my family, for basketball, because we all represent one family here," Kirilenko said. "We are the same team and one family, it doesn't matter the sport."

Even as late as Friday night, he was still expressing surprise at his selection.

"It's a huge honor for me as Russia has a lot of Olympic champions," he said. "We have a four-time Olympic fencing champion — how is it that I am more respected than he?"

While Kirilenko marched at the forefront his delegation, Jazz teammates Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams and the rest of the U.S. men's basketball team were at the tail end of the American contingent, with the recognizable hoops stars drawing cheers from the crowd of 91,000 when their faces were shown on the stadium's two massive video screens.

And both were under the watchful eyes of their national leaders in attendance, Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — who acknowledged Kirilenko as he stepped off with the flag — and President Bush, whose video image drew both generous applause and a smattering of boos.


E-mail: [email protected]