Jalen Rose talks basketball with former teammate Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

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

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

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

His “habits” were initially presented as blackouts. He had problems at school both academically and socially.

“I’m trying to hide what’s almost impossible to hide because… kids are brutal. They call you,” he said. “I was always taught to be respectful and kind, but even more so when you have people who can see your situation. You have to make sure that, even more, you are the kindest one.”

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

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

“It came naturally to me,” he said.

He was finally diagnosed in 11th grade: It was Tourette syndrome, a neurological condition he described as: “your body and mind are on different wavelengths.” At that time, there were no athletes or celebrities to raise awareness. It would later become that voice. But he realized that he had to change his perception of his disorder.

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

“So some of us, we buy the labels…” he said, adding that instead, he realized that God would not give him a burden he could not bear.

“[God’s] The goal is not to demoralize and dehumanize you,” he said. “[God’s] you’re trying to teach me something, you’re trying to lift me up, you know? And as a young boy, that’s how I started to see it.”

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

He eventually realized that his illness gave him an edge.

“I started to see that actually Tourettes, yes, it is difficult. Life is hard… [but it] it has elevated me in ways in basketball, even as a person, because it makes you more sensitive, compassionate and empathetic to what people are going through,” he said.

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

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

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

But my former teammate, who was so disciplined, doesn’t do it with his hoops or his voice. He’s still playing in Ice Cube’s Big3 League at the ripe old age of 53 — which makes my joints hurt. But Mahmoud attributes his longevity, and so many other positive things, to his faith.

“Islam has done all this for me as well as influencing and motivating me to educate
myself and being cruel. And to stand up for things,” he said.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconic Fab Five that rocked the college world in the early 90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before becoming 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 best-selling author of “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion maven and co-founder of Jalen Rose Leadership Academy , a public charter school in his hometown.