A Million Miles Away
When Iran won some FIBA tournament last year, I was a little disappointed. Well, first I was excited, then I got majorly bummed to pieces when I watched footage. However foolishly, I'd expected Persian hoops to be, well, exotic.
It's all fine and good to say that a sport, like basketball, is a universal language through which each nation-state gives voice to its identity. But the best shit happens when a culture with a surfeit of style—and let's face it, for thousands of years Iran has that—actually puts a twist on that basic language. The only other examples I can think of are the totally foreign twitches of rhythm in Manu and Barbosa's games (KOBE SAID IT, NOT ME). Or, if I have to say it, the whole Af-Am-ization of the NBA from Elgin Baylor on.
I would like international play a lot more if it were more like this video, which is apparently how pick-ups games go down at Baghdad College. I think these guys aren't very good, but the last thing we need is more boring basketball, clinical basketball, or basketball reinforcing NCAA values. The least a far-flung country can do is come up with a shock to the sport's system. That's what the Warriors did, right, and they live in America!
One year, ESPN Mag's NEXT issue got so insane they started tracking down athletes who might could be NEXT in four years. There was a story on scouting for players in the Sudan, which is apparently full of lightning-quick, vista-long 6'9" kids who can jump over anyone despite not owning shoes. They pass well and can handle okay, but have no idea what the rules are. They can't shoot, either, which actually sounds this sound like a country of embryonic Julian Wrights.
If basketball is indeed a tool for the left, which I like to think it could be, then we need to fight hegemony within the sport. The NBA's adoption of the Pan-Euro Invasion didn't just "help" the Association. It was also a way of stamping out regional resistance, of making international competition into the European Union.
Baghdad College won't stand for none of that. Sissies.