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Love of the Game: An Iranian Story (English)



Like almost every 12-year old Iranian boy in 80's, I was fascinated with soccer. But a seemingly insignificant turn of events occurred that year that changed my life for forever.

Two posters of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Patrick Ewing that my uncle brought me as present from his trip to the US were my first peek inside the NBA. I used to sit behind my desk and stare at those posters. They were my most prized possessions; even topped my train set. Using the look of the hoop in the posters and measurements off my schools backboard, I made my first hoop. I hoisted it up a lamppost in our ally. My mom saw a never-seen-before sparkle in my eyes, so she bought my first pair of Chuck Taylor's and this is how I joined the millions who embrace the love this game.

There was no Internet back then, we had no TSN, no ESPN, even Farsi language magazines in those days didn't dedicate a single line to any level of basketball. If I found a piece of foreign media with any basketball coverage in it was like striking gold for me.

In my basketball club North of Tehran we painted the figures of Jerry West on both backboards. Our coach designed and ordered our team jerseys that were inspired by the colours of the Atlanta Hawks.

Iran's first official jump ball was thrown in 1936, at a college in downtown Tehran. Iranian families' profound belief in the value of education helped Iranians embrace this new collegiate sport. Basketball hoops were installed in almost every school across the country and athletes from other sports wet their hands in the water the game. The 1948 summer Olympics in London was Iran's first notable international appearance in basketball. Iran's first appearance in Asian Olympics in 1973 brought nothing more than fifth place. Despite major events like the 1979 revolution and 1981-1987 war with Iraq, Iran played almost in every Asian Championship games since then. Basketball was always eclipsed by soccer in Iran, until 2002. The first sparkle of the golden age in Iranian basketball was its U18 National team advancement to final game to face China. It snowballed from there.

Since 2004 Iran racked up all sorts of titles in Asia - both National Championships and Club Championships. The same team who won the 2004 U18 championship, now grown up, became the first team to qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Probably the highlight of Iran's Golden age was defeating China - the undisputed powerhouse of basketball in Asia - to secure a spot in 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Iranians as the world's youngest population, fell in love with basketball.

Despite all limitations, Iran's basketball super league is flourishing. Acquiring foreign talents from European leagues and the US presented a new opportunity for Iran's basketball to open a larger window to the world. Former NBA players, who are wearing Iranian club jerseys, become a source of know-how for Iranian players. In 2008, Iran's young 7 2' centre, Hamed Haddadi was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies and became the first Iranian born player to set foot in the NBA. Arsalan Kazemi, Iran's U18 National team captain was the first to be signed by a Division 1 NCAA team. With his experience in NCAA ball and excellent numbers, hopes are high for him to become the Iranian version of Yao Ming. Fast-forward twenty years for that 12-year-old kid; I watched my first live NBA game at Air Canada Centre, where the Toronto Raptors were facing the Philadelphia 76ers. Now as Iranian-Canadians, most of my friends and me are calling the Toronto Raptors: "Our Team".