NBA’s Haddadi Scores for Persian Homeland; His Team Is in the Tank
By JOEL MILLMAN
PORTLAND, Ore. — As the National Basketball Association’s regular season winds down, a cult hero has emerged on a last-place team with absolutely no chance of making the playoffs.
He’s Memphis Grizzlies rookie Hamed Haddadi, a 7-foot-2 center and the NBA’s first-ever player from Iran. Mr. Haddadi has appeared in only 13 games so far this season — and rarely for more than a few “garbage” minutes late in contests Memphis has little hope of winning. Yet he has managed to become an icon to thousands of Iranian-Americans looking to sports as a relief from the constant tensions between their adopted country and their native land.
It’s the climax of a whirlwind 10 months for Mr. Haddadi. Last summer, he led Iran to its first Olympic berth in basketball, then became the first player in NBA history to need a waiver from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to sign with a U.S. professional team (because of a decades-long trade embargo with Iran).