NBA teams seek clearance to sign Iranian

The Vertical
Yahoo! Sports

BEIJING – As interest has grown in the NBA over signing 7-foot-2 Iranian Olympian Hamed Ehadadi, the league office has sent a letter to its 30 teams instructing that they are forbidden to even discuss a contract with Ehadadi, Yahoo! Sports has learned.

In the letter, which was sent Friday, NBA legal counsel wrote: “It has come to our attention that representatives of Hamed Ehadadi, an Iranian basketball player, may be contacting NBA teams to discuss the possibility of signing Mr. Ehadadi to an NBA player contract.

“We have been advised that a federal statue prohibits a person or organization in the United States from engaging in business dealings with Iranian nationals.”

The NBA is applying to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for a license that, “if granted,” the league said, would allow teams to negotiate with the 23-year-old Ehadadi. Until then, no franchise is allowed to do so.

Commissioner David Stern invited the Iranian national team to compete in July’s NBA summer league in Utah, allowing the team a pre-Olympics tune-up. When NBA teams started to show an interest in signing Ehadadi, Stern had league counsel begin the process of clearing a path through this complicated circumstance with the U.S. State Department.

After his most impressive game of these Olympics – 21 points and 16 rebounds in a 97-82 loss to Argentina on Saturday – Ehadadi, a center, said through an assistant coach, Mehran Hatami, “It is my dream to play in the NBA.”

When asked if he had been in contact with NBA teams, Ehadadi said, “two or three,” including the Memphis Grizzlies.

“It’s our pleasure for one player from Iran to one day play in the NBA,” Hatami said. “I am sure he will play there this season because he has played great (at the Olympics). He is a talented player. He is OK for beginning in the NBA. After practicing a few years, you will see that he will be one of the great players.”

League executives don’t exactly share Iran’s grand vision for Ehadadi. He’s considered a project – “Pretty limited,” one league executive said Saturday – but there has been intrigue with his developing offensive game and an ability to block shots. In Iran’s four losses in Pool B thus far, Ehadadi has averaged 16.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

“He’s huge,” one NBA scouting director said. “You have to give him that.”

After going unselected in the 2004 NBA draft, Ehadadi became a free agent eligible to sign with any team. He has played with several clubs in the Iranian professional league, including Peyakan and Sanam. Ehadadi gathered some favorable reviews among several NBA scouts for his play with Iran in the summer league.

“The Iranian basketball federation supports him to play in the best situation for his basketball career,” Hatami said. “We would like for him to go to a place where he will play, not sit on the bench. That’s very important for our basketball – and also for him.”

If that’s the case, Iranian officials are likely to be disappointed if Ehadadi ever does get to the NBA. For now, politics make him wait to get that opportunity.

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