The NBA is the perfect theater for making childhood dreams come true, but the NBA also has the particularity of sometimes turning off the light even faster than it turned it on. Off-peak time obliges, this summer we are looking at names that are familiar to us, some more than others, names that “mean something to us” but which no longer really make the first headlines. Stories that bring back a sweet melancholy. Cold Case Closed Cases but NBA version, with the ambition to give you some news of these guys who were once part of our daily lives. Sixth episode? The first French basketball player to have walked on a court during an official NBA game, Mr. Tariq Abdul-Wahad.
Here’s a big chunk. Quite unknown to the general French public, Tariq Abdul-Wahad has nevertheless entered the tricolor history manuals for eternity, since he is the first Blue to have played an official match in the NBA, regular season and playoffs included. Rather not a bad track record, right?
If we can say of Tony Parker that he is the most beautiful representative of French basketball in the NBA, Tariq Abdul-Wahad is undoubtedly the pioneer. Born under the name of Olivier Saint-Jean, the one who will later be called Tariq Abdul-Wahad is a beautiful baby of 1.98m for about 105 kilos. Athletic player and good defender, the tricolor began his career in France and in Pro B, on the side of ALM Évreux. Condemned to play pivot under the orders of the French technicians, Tariq then tries a crazy bet: to fly to the United States and the NCAA in order to play on the rear / winger positions. The Frenchie signed up with the Michigan Wolverines, where he ultimately played little – four games in his sophomore season – due to several injuries. whatever, the American Dream is on the way and Tariq decides to bounce back in the modest college of San Jose State. His first steps are convincing, since in his first season, he compiled 17 points and 6 rebounds per game. The sequel will only be more beautiful. The Frenchman gets a scholarship and explodes everything in the university circuit, completing his course with 23.8 points and 8.8 rebounds each evening. What arouse the interest of several NBA franchises, including the Sacramento Kings who will end up drafting him with the 11th choice in 1997, making him the second Frenchman chosen in a draft. The first ? Jean-Claude Lefebvre in 1960.
“Very early on, I tell myself, what interests me is learning to play winger or second back to be able to go to university and then to the NBA. I never hid it. When I returned from the European Junior Championship in 1992, I played in 4, at 1m96. I know very well that this is not the place to be. I tell myself that in France, there is no training for guys like me. They are going to train me to do something that will benefit them more than me. I didn’t want that, that’s why I’ve never been a fan of the French formation. »
Barred by Mitch Richmond at the Kings, Abdul-Wahad plays little but still takes advantage of the opportunity to become the first Frenchman to play an official game in the NBA. Boom! History is on. Two seasons after his Draft, Tariq is sent to the Magic, despite the great promises seen during his appearances on the floor. In Orlando, the Frenchie will achieve the best statistical season of his career in the Great League, compiling 12 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes per evening. Unfortunately for him, the adventure in Florida ends after only 46 games. The expat ‘is traded to the Nuggets where he will land a nice contract of 43 million dollars over seven years, which he will never be able to justify. Failing results, Abdul-Wahad is sent to the Mavs in a big trade around Nick Van Excel, Tim Hardaway and Raef LaFrentz. It is also here, in Dallas, that the now winger will set foot on the NBA courts for the last time. Plagued by injuries, the French international did not play a game from 2003 to 2005, before retiring that year. But then, after 236 games and 1830 points in the Great League, what becomes of Tariq Abdul-Wahad?
Well to make a long story short, Tariq Abdul-Wahad never really let go of sport which, even today, punctuates his daily life. Father of three children, Tariq struggles to instill in them the values of high-level sport. One is in football, the other two are tennis. It is for the latter that the former French international set up his own tennis academy “NorCal”on the San Jose side, where Tariq and his family still live. Besides, he never really hung up the sneakers no more. After his playing career, TAW went into coaching. First for a year, in the NCAA women’s second division with the Monterey Bay Otters as an assistant coach, then with boys, at Lincoln High School in San Jose for three years. At the same time, the French lead the “WG BlueSox Basketball”, an academy for young female basketball players. Beyond sports, Abdul-Wahad is also heavily involved in religion. Converted to Islam since 1997, faith is an integral part of his life. He will also tell how much religion has ” assistance “ in his basketball career. Today, he is at the origin of many projects and initiatives around Islam, like “iHajar”, a personal prayer reminder assistant. Far from the spotlight and the din of the NBA, Tariq Abdul-Wahad remains discreet. If he is not the most publicized ex-NBAer, he is nevertheless available for a few interviews, like his time at ” All-the-TALK ».
Tariq Abdul-Wahad may never have had the career he deserved in the NBA, but whatever. A bit like his background, he is a discreet man, who very much prefers darkness to light. His name is the starting point of the history of French basketball among the cainris. He is – and will remain – forever the first.
Text sources: All-the-TALK, FFBB