By special guest Karan Makvandi
Former Iranian national Basketball guard, Basketball Blogger and Sport media contributor.
“Keep your dribble low when you are faced up with defense, you got to protect the ball,” my coach yelled.
To my 14 year old basketball newbie’s logic this looked counter intuitive. I asked “ But coach, if I keep my dribble low then I need to bend, If I bend I can’t see my open man!”
Coach blew his whistle. We all stopped bouncing balls. Few clumsier kids struggled to stop the bounce and the balls ran away from them.
“Listen Up!” coach yelled. “When dribbling low, you got to keep back straight and your head up, you should not look at the ball while dribbling” he continued. “Your fingers are your eyes on the ball.”
Then he pulled out a Magic Johnson poster. It was glued to piece of plywood. It was classic Magic. He was dribbling low while looking away from the ball waiting for a bullet pass to make yet another highlight reel. His purple and gold jersey was the brightest and most mesmerizing colour pallet we all have ever seen.
“Is he looking at his dribble?” coach shouted. “NO COACH!” we all replied with military Sir-Yes-Sir tone. “So, If Magic looks away from his dribble there should be pretty good reason for that! Understood?” The logic was implacable, straight forward and simple. At that age you don’t need to know about the mechanics of a move and shorter ball travel distance means more control. You probably don’t even need to convince yourself by statistics that low dribbling is effective when close to defender. You just need a role model to trust and follow. That was the way I learned how to dribble in an outdoor court in Tehran some twenty and odd years ago.
As a teenager, I might not have been good at no look dribble like Magic but I was sure that I could keep my dribble alive. I made a pact with myself to keep on dribbling even outside of basketball court. In the street, on the way to school, at grandma’s house, even in the lineup at the bakery I kept on dribbling. Street and alleys of Tehran was not what you call ‘Pedestrian Friendly’ by any stretch of the imagination but that worked to my advantage. I used the city as world’s largest skill challenge obstacle course. On my way to school I used to blow by trees and cross over passed any unsuspecting pedestrians on the sidewalks. This was how I practiced my own version of ankle breaker. I felt like three imaginary NBA refs are constantly following me every day to catch my fumbles, up and downs and call it a carry. God knows how many time I narrowly escaped a car or a truck to run me over when crossing the streets while dribbling. I had a laser focus not to carry, double or turn the ball over. I was in dribbling state-of-trance and I loved it.
20 and odd years later, I am standing at the side line of Air Canada Centre practice court watching the young coach at Raptors Learn to Dribble Clinic telling my daughter the same thing.
“Hold your head up and protect your ball with your elbow” coach emphasized.
“You got to keep you centre of gravity as low as you can” He continued.
It is wonderful how fundamentals of basketball stay the same years later in a new county, where my daughter, Erica learned how to correctly bounce the ball and maneuver between imaginary defenses.
On Saturday February 16th, Toronto Raptors held a free training camp for Iranian community youngsters ages 8 to 14 in Air Canada Centre practice court. It was not only the kids who were excited but also you could read how thrilled are the parents from the look on faces. They recognize this unique opportunity for their loved ones to experience Canada’s finest basketball facility and professional grade practice routines. The fact that our kids are getting same treatment as a professional NBA player is inspiring for our community. In the last decade the Raptors have had a pivotal role in inspiring local kids to unleash their talent. When you ask team Canada young up and coming hoops stars –most of whom are from the GTA and considered as future NBA first round drafters – about their inspiration, they point to superstars like Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Tracy Mcgrady as foundation of their motivation.
Toronto Raptors Iranian night is on its fourth year. This event is now well known in the community of Canadian-Iranians. This year the Learn to Dribble Clinic for young players was added to the event and it has been the most exciting event so far. This year, Raptors Iranian night is also promoted by volunteers from Tirgan Festival. Tirgan, the world’s largest festival celebrating Iranian art and culture right here in Toronto.