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Rubbing Shoulders With The Giants

Karan Makvandi
Loose Ball Diary Blog: www.makvandi.com
@Loosebball on twitter

I was listening to Pau Gasol recount his personal experience as a 12-year-old kid, along with his younger brother Marc, watching Magic Johnson’s mystical ballet-like game during the Barcelona Olympic Games in summer of 1992. He was so moved by the news of Magic’s illness that decided to become a doctor to cure him. This encounter had such a lasting effect on him and his brother that it paved the way for both of them to becoming two of the brightest basketball stars Spain ever presented to the world.

On a completely different level, it reminded me of the winter of 1984. The (then) Soviet basketball team from the city of Riga (now the capital of Latvia) came to my hometown, Tehran, to face the Iranian men’s team in a series of friendly matches. I was 12 years old and that was the closest thing I could experience to meeting an NBA player. Back in those days, players from that region of Europe (now divided to countries of Latvia and Lithuania) used to form the backbone of Soviet national basketball team.

The day of the final game, my older brother Kasra skipped his classes, picked me up from my school and we managed to get into the dingy old arena in downtown Tehran. The arena was packed but we miraculously managed to get floor seating along the baseline. That was the day I saw my first dunk in the warm up. I was mesmerized by the flying towers of the Riga team. The experience of meeting world caliber basketball players up close and personal imprinted such a vivid memory in my mind that more than 28 years later, I can recall the events of that game like an HD broadcast. That day played a huge role in my basketball life.

Thanks the Toronto Raptors, now my daughter has the chance to meet with the real deal, up close and personal this Friday night; to mingle with the players during Raptors shootaround and meet and greet with players on a personal level. This is just a part of the special treat MLSE offered our community during the second annual Iranian Night at Air Canada Centre.

Basketball: An Iranian Family’s Sport Of Choice

It’s no secret that the world’s soccer frenzy captivates Iranian sport fans for some time but for typical Iranian families, back at home or abroad, basketball is still the number one choice when it comes to raising our kids. Martial arts may build self-confidence, soccer may teach you endurance and body building may show you the way how to be consistence, but basketball is a way of life. It’s the perfect balance between being aggressive and being subtle at the same time. You’ve got to be creative and consistent in a second, you have to break routine and follow rules in an instant and it’s the individual player that matters but it takes a team to win.

There are very few sports that have such a beautiful mix of opposites. Hoops is also the sport of choice for many Iranian- Canadian families in Ontario. The Iranian community is relatively large in Southern Ontario, Canada’s heartland of basketball. From a basketball point of view, our community felt privileged to settle where the only Canadian NBA franchise operates.

Iran Basketball At A Crossroads

Iran Basketball, with its first win in its first World Championship appearance last summer, is getting much-needed international exposure and traction. Iran is already a championship contender in Asia and peerless challenger in FIBA’s West Asia Sub Zone, but in order to evolve from one-hit wonder to a potential basketball powerhouse like The Balkan countries, Iran has an uphill battle to win. Although Iran is relatively a rich country, a widespread shortage of sports facilities at the grass roots level, like school gyms and community centres, diminishes the chance for all those youngsters to succeed in basketball.

Unlike North American schools and colleges that have a long history of creating commercial value in sports to collect endowments and sell products, Iranian universities and colleges are still faced with a decision on how to transform collegiate basketball to a source of revenue and not rely on limited government budgets or tuition. This alone puts basketball’s grass roots movement in a position of disadvantage. In basketball, the road to excellence is not unique however, capitalizing on grass roots basketball is an undeniable wining strategy.