As a basketball fan, I have always had a love for the lesser known, obscure and/or under-appreciated. At school, when most kids were wearing Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan jerseys, I was wearing Bobby Hurley, Derek Harper and Dino Radja.
This is my open tribute to the lesser known players in today’s game. This is Spotted on the Pine.
Name: Hamed Haddadi
Team: Phoenix Suns
Jersey Number: 98
Rookie Year: 2008-09
They call him Big Had-dadi.
At least I do. And anyone who heard my reports of my experiences at the Suns games last year or I’ve talked basketball with know I am a big sucker for this 7’2” Iranian gem. A friend of mine recently brought up the fact that Kobe wears 24 in the NBA, one greater than Jordan’s 23 and Kobe wore 10 in the Olympics, one greater than Jordan’s Team USA jersey number 9. I pointed out Hamed Haddadi wears 98, so he is clearly greater than both combined.
So that may be me getting ahead of myself by quite a bit but Haddadi’s long road to playing time in the NBA was finally seen last year, so let’s talk about the journey and see who become familiar with Hamed next season.
Hamed Haddadi was born in Ahvaz, Iran on May 19th, 1985. By 1999, at the age of fourteen, this Iranian big man was already playing basketball on a professional level in Iran for Shahin Ahvaz. Soon after, in 2002, while most Americans his age were still in high school, Hamed started playing for Payka Tehran of the Iranian Basketball Super League. Now, I am not extremely familiar with the level of competition in the IBSL but the name sounds pretty fantastic. Haddadi played in this league at 16/17 years of age and they have had their fair share of former United States college and NBA players such as Francisco Elson, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Julius Nwosu, Cheikh Samb, Pape Sow, Priest Lauderdale, Lee Nailon, Robert Whaley and Loren Woods. Any Suns fans reading the article may recognize the names Jackson Vroman and one of my favorites, Marko Milic. If I wrote these articles a long time ago, Marko would have his own. Dude barely even got playing time for a Suns, but he dunked over a car when Blake was still counting down the days to middle school.
Haddadi originally declared himself for the 2004 NBA draft but went undrafted. That wasn’t to say the big man wasn’t sought out internationally. Hamed was courted by Serbain League team Partizan Belgrade, a team with many accolades over its six decade history that was also a home for recent NBA breakout Nikola Pekovic of the Timberwolves.
Despite the enticing offer, Hamed decided to stay in Iran. It made sense. He had developed there, he had won gold and silver medals in FIBA competitions with Under-18 teams and medaled in other FIBA Asian championships.
Flash forward shortly to the Summer of 2008, Beijing Olympics. Typically hard play was coming from Spain and Argentina. The US was hoping the new Redeem Team would bring their nation back to the forefront of the basketball competition. Quietly, Hamed Haddadi playing for Iran led the tournament with the highest averages in the whole tournament in both blocked shots and rebounds.
Needless to say, the NBA attention he had been starting to increase more and more. On August 28, 2008, Hamed Haddadi became an NBA player signing with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Haddadi worked out through the preseason but did not get much playing time. Hamed would average 9.7 minutes over six preseason games, contributing 1.7 points and 3.3 rebounds. While watching for most of the bulk of the beginning of the season, on November 25, 2008, Haddadi was sent to the Dakota Wizards, who were the D-League affiliate of the Grizzlies at the time.
Haddadi spent eleven games with Dakota, starting seven of them, averaging 17.7 minutes with 6.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. This production would lead to the Grizzlies recalling him on Christmas Eve, with hope he would make his regular season debut before the end of 2008.
The Iranian sensation did that, as he got a four minute appearance on December 30, 2008 in a loss against the Phoenix Suns.
Hamed would spend the better part of five seasons with Memphis. As the Grizzlies had a surge in success in the West, Haddadi did not get much time on a team relying on its bigs like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
As the Grizzlies looked to shed some salary and diversify their depth, Memphis participated in a three-way trade where they acquired Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Austin Daye and a second-round pick. Detroit received Toronto’s Jose Calderon. Memphis gave up Rudy Gay to Toronto and included Hamed in the deal.
In this time, Haddadi had arrangements to be working in the United States from Iran but the move to Canada caused some immigration issues. By the time all issues were clear, Haddadi would never play for the Raptors as he was moved to the Phoenix Suns, in the midst of one of the most challenging seasons in franchise history.
The Suns were undergoing changes. In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the struggling Suns fired coach Alvin Gentry and brought in Lindsey Hunter as head coach, a former point guard with no actual coaching experience on any level.
Hunter wanted to utilize their rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, based on the potential he showed in North Carolina that made him a lottery pick in the 2012 draft. To do so, the Suns wanted to move Sebastian Telfair and the Raptors threw in Haddadi with a 2nd round draft pick to acquire the star of Through the Fire.
Haddadi joined the Suns, taking on number 98 as a tribute to Iran’s international dial code but would sit on the bench for the first few weeks, being the odd man out on the roster. With lots of young players getting chances, Haddadi was third on the depth chart at center behind Marcin Gortat, the incumbent starting center, and former All-Star Jermaine O’Neal, who was having a solid season under the miracle medical staff of the Suns.
As March began, O’Neal sadly encountered a family emergency. Jermaine would take hiatus from the team to join his young daughter for surgery on her heart. Haddadi would suit up with JO away from the team for the March 6, 2013 home game against Haddadi’s last team, the team that didn’t even play him, the Toronto Raptors.
During play, the Suns took another hit as Marcin Gortat would go down with a season ending injury. Not only was Haddadi going to get a chance to play, the Suns were going to have to play him.
While the Suns would still go small to start, using Luis Scola in the center spot, Haddadi would get important minutes off the bench. Thrown into the fire, on March 9th, Hamed would play 28 minutes off the bench, racking up 6 points, 3 blocks and have a career high 11-rebound night. This play huge into the Suns upsetting the playoff-bound Houston Rockets.
But Hamed did not stop there, as the very next game, he would set his new career high point total with 13 points in 18 minutes against the Denver Nuggets.
There were not many bright spots for Suns fans but they were all beginning to ask “Who’s Your Haddadi?”
Hamed would become an intriguing part of the Suns going forward. Hamed Haddadi may not have even played for the Suns if it had not been for a series of unfortunate events. He was thrown in to balance a trade by a team not using him.
But Hamed did get a chance. In in the 30 games he ended up appearing in the 2012-13, in players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, Haddadi ranked 10th in the entire NBA in Offensive Rebounding. How can a team not use someone that is efficient in getting rebounds off their own glass?
Not only does Haddadi rebound and block shots, but watching him, he has a very nice shot for a big man. He can hit a 15-footer with ease and shoots free throws much better than other seven-foot players.
You’d have to think in a league where Jerome James got paid for a stretch of solid games with a winning team, Haddadi may have secured himself some more years in the NBA.
To me, the signs of promise are not the only reason to root for Hamed Haddadi. Hamed was a trail blazer, being the first (and only player to date) NBA player from Iran. He sets a great example and uses his status to do great things with the Iranian-American community.
While with the Grizzlies, Haddadi held a basketball camp in California, primarily for members of the Iranian-American community. He brought in over 100 kids to this camp, the first ever held by an Iranian player in the United States and taught them as one of the coaches. In addition to himself, he brought in other successful Iranian players. Being the only Iranian NBA, he also brought in the only other NBA player to make sense and truly speak to the Iranian community, Ron Artest.
Hamed Haddadi may not get much attention in this NBA season. The Suns are still going to be in full-on rebuild mode. Not a team that is going to be sexy enough for National TV. As someone who is planning on attending the bulk of the Suns season next year, one of my main wishes for 2013-14 is seeing the continued growth of Hamed Haddadi. I only hope the Team Shop stocks up his jersey so I can finally get one.