Monday, March 22, 2010

Best. Nowruz. Ever.

Northern Iowa, Ali Farokhmanesh and the Vernal Equinox

In and around New York City, the weather was delightful this past weekend. Saturday, in particular, was sun-splashed and warm. It was a glorious day. It was a holy day.

And, no, I'm not talking about those of who us who consider the first four days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to be some sort of civic holiday. Which I do. Rather, I'm talking about the vernal equinox.

March 20, 2010 was the vernal equinox, one of two days during the year when there is a location on the equator above which the center of the sun is directly overhead. The day during which this moment occurs is composed of equal parts day and night. Each year, this occurs once in late March and once in late September.

For centuries this has been a holy day. It was considered the first day of the new year in many ancient calendars and is still commemorated by celebrations around the globe. In Persian culture, the day is called Nowruz which roughly translates into "New Day." Possibly begun by Zoroaster, the holiday is still widely observed in Iran (present-day Persia), throughout the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, large swaths of the former Soviet Republics and even parts of China. It's sort of a big deal.

And for Iranian hoops fans this one had to be the most joyous Nowruz in years. Because Ali Farokhmanesh shot the Panthers of Northern Iowa University into the Sweet 16. The American-born Farokhmanesh, whose father played for the Iranian volleyball team in 1980 Olympic Games, hit key three-point shots in each of UNI's upset wins over UNLV and top-seeded Kansas. His game-killing shot against the Jayhawks was particularly impressive.

With his team leading with less than a minute to play, most teams would have drained as much of the remaining time off the clock before taking a shot. They would have played it safe and looked to seal the game at the free throw line. Farokhmanesh (pronounced fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH) stunned everyone, most specifically Kansas, by lofting an uncontested three-point shot from the wing early in the shot clock. His shot was pure and the game was all but won. It was an amazing show of courage and calculation. His sweet long-distance stroke has endeared the senior marketing major to a national, and perhaps international, audience. His player bio at Panthers' website lists his favorite sports memory as "qualifying for state basketball tournament at Iowa City West."

I'd imagine that he's got a few new moments to add to his list. Best. Nowruz. Ever.

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