Jalen Rose talks hoops with ex-teammate Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

Jalen Rose talks hoops with ex-teammate Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

My former teammate Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was almost singular in his ability to shoot off the dribble (yes, people compare him and Steph Curry). But he was driven not just by hunger and a desire to be great, but by a physical condition that went misdiagnosed for much of his youth.

Growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi, Mahmoud had to contend with poverty and showed signs that something was off.

“And [the doctor] tells my mother that, ‘Well, he has habits. They come and they go.’ And
then he prescribed these huge orange pills that looked like they had jelly inside,” he told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.

His “habits” first presented as blackouts. He had trouble in school both academically and socially.

“Trying to hide what is almost impossible to hide because … children are brutal. They are call you names,” he said. “I was always taught to be respectful and kind, but even extra when you have people that could see your condition. You have to make sure that, even more so, you’re the kindest.”

He still remembers the names and teasing. Luckily, he had a superpower that could shut down the noise.

“But I think one of the things I was blessed to have to my advantage, I was great at sports.” A fan of Dr. J and Isiah Thomas, he gravitated toward hoops.

“It just came natural to me,” he said.

He was finally diagnosed in the 11th grade: It was Tourette syndrome, a neurological condition he described as: “your body and your mind are on different wavelengths.” At the time, there weren’t any athletes or celebrities raising awareness. He’d later become that voice. But he understood that he had to change his perception of his disorder.

“There’s a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called ‘David and Goliath’ and it talks about how we perceive advantages and disadvantages. And what it boils down to, it is about perception,” Mahmoud said. He recalled a scene in the movie “Ray” where Ray Charles is being told he’s not a cripple and won’t be treated like one.

“So some of us, we buy into the labels …,” he said, adding that instead, he realized that God wouldn’t give him a burden he couldn’t bear.

“[God’s] aim is not to demoralize and to dehumanize you,” he said. “[God’s] trying to teach me something, trying to elevate me, you know? And so as a young boy, that’s the way I began to look at it.”

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf #7 of the 3 Headed Monsters looks to move the ball against the Triplets during the game in BIG3 Week 5 at Comerica Center on July 17, 2022
Abdul-Rauf looks to move the ball during a game in BIG3 Week 5 at Comerica Center on July 17, 2022.Getty Images for BIG3

He eventually realized his disease gave him an edge.

“I began to see that actually Tourettes, yeah it’s tough. Life is tough … [but it] has elevated me in ways in basketball and even just as a human because it makes you more sensitive, empathetic and sympathetic to what people go through,” he said.

Aside from becoming the face of this then-little understood disease, he quite famously converted to Islam in 1991, which he said changed his life drastically.

That change included altering his given name from Chris Jackson to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He also became an outspoken voice for social justice causes, which wasn’t always to his benefit, to put it mildly. In March 1996, he led a silent protest during the national anthem. There were fines, suspensions and backlash. However, his life and legacy are now being re-examined in “Stand,” a Showtime documentary premiering Feb. 3.

He said he was “grateful” to film, which features interviews with Steve Kerr, Shaquille O’Neal, Mahershala Ali and yours truly.

But my former teammate, who was so disciplined, isn’t done with hoops or with using his voice. He’s still playing in Ice Cube’s Big3 league at the ripe age of 53 — something that makes my joints hurt. But Mahmoud attributes his longevity, and so many other positive things, to his faith.

“Islam has done all of that for me as well as influence and motivate me toward educating
myself and being tough. And standing up for things,” he said.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive-produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.