As a born and bred Yankee fan, I always felt a tinge of envy for the Dodger fans who could wear their politics on their sleeve. Jackie Robinson—hard to deny his historical importance. And Dodger fans of a certain generation, a bit older than mine, could go through their day-to-day lives feeling virtuous, progressive, suffused with a kind of self-regarding anti-racist glow, in addition to enjoying great baseball. You would hear them boast about it for generations afterward. I’m not being sarcastic.
Sports are only interesting with a rooting interest. Tiger, for or against? (I’ve always been against, but now am now sliding towards for.) The Williams sisters? No. The Boston Patriots? No. The Miami Heat? No.
The NCAA is a problem because I never have a natural team. Columbia, sorry. So one has to construct artificial rooting interests. I tend to pull for teams with two or three key white players—for integrationist reason perhaps, or because the game would become less interesting if it became solely black, I don’t know. The great Knick teams of my youth had Bradley, Lucas, and DeBusschere as well as the sublime Clyde Frazier and Captain Willis Reed.
So, the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon Ducks. They have the only Iranian in the tournament, and probably in all of Division One basketball. Arselan Kazemi came to the states to play basketball, first at Rice, now with the Ducks. His father is an apparently bourgeois candy-factory owner; his parents learned that in America you could both study and play basketball, and here he is. I root for him for the same reason I rooted last year for “A Separation” to win the Academy Award for best foreign film. It was good movie, true. And it allowed one to observe cultural and moral life in a city (Teheran) in a time and a place that is globally important and not otherwise easily accessible. But also because it humanized Iranians and made the war the neoconservatives want the United States to launch against them a tiny, tiny bit less likely.
No, I’m not thinking that a little film has a big influence. But if one can see the Persians as the ugly-bearded heirs of Hitler, it’s that much easier for The Weekly Standard and the rest of the War Party to persuade Americans they need to be bombed. And every little thing that makes that more difficult is a blessing.
So, back to the Ducks. Arselan Kazemi is a thin 6-7 “power-forward”—of the kind you can only have in college. He’s a great rebounder. I think for the first two games of the tournament he set a record for most rebounds. He runs up and down the court, collects the rebound, and hands the ball off to one of his guards. No attempt, ever, to shoot from more than five feet. You almost don’t see him. No flamboyant blocks or dunks (well one, when the game was well in hand.) I suspect rebounding is somewhat like reading greens in golf—that many people are decent at judging the right line of a putt, but some people are exceptional at it, and if so, it makes up a bit for other weaknesses. So at the college level, Karzemi is, or at least has been in the tournament thus far, a veritable Dennis Rodman. The Ducks have other players to shoot and score from inside. To get them the ball, they have Kazemi. Tonight—when they play number one seed Louisville, the tournament favorite at this point—will be a big test about whether they are ready to play at the highest level of college ball. Louisville is heavily favored, but I’ll be watching.