The pass came in the left corner and it was a simple 17-foot jumper that looked like so many others.
Except for the time and the place.
When Abdul Qadir Jeelani made the bucket on Oct. 11, 1980, it was the first basket scored in the history of the Dallas Mavericks expansion franchise and the crowd of 10,373 at old Reunion Arena went wild.
Jeelani, 62, died Wednesday night, according to the Racine Journal Times.
“Absolutely one of the highlights of my career,” Jeelani told the Dallas Morning News in 2011. “For a journeyman like myself, that’s like the Hall of Fame, to be forever linked to a franchise in such a manner.”
From Dirk Nowitzki to Steve Nash to Mark Aguirre to Detlef Schrempf to Austin Carr to Rolando Blackman to Brad Davis, there have been plenty of big buckets made in Mavs history. But only Jeelani could carry the distinction of the first.
It was part of a two-year NBA career that saw him play one season each in Portland and Dallas, but it helped carry Jeelani through a continued professional career in Europe then a difficult post-playing life that included alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, diabetes and cancer.
“That certainly wasn’t in my plans,” Jeelani said. “To say that you have nowhere to go. To say you don’t have any keys to your own place, that you have to depend on the generosity of others to house and feed you.”
Born Gary Cole on Feb. 10, 1954 in Bells, Tenn., the 6-foot-8 forward graduated from Park High School in Racine in 1972. He went on to earn NAIA All-America honors in college at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1975 and ’75.
Jeelani was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliersin the third round of the 1976 draft, he was the last pick in that year’s Draft and was waived before the regular season. He was signed by the Detroit Pistons in September 1977, but waived prior to that season. He played three seasons in Italy before catching on in 1979 and then moved to Dallas in the expansion draft in 1980. After the one season with the Mavs, he signed a four-year contract worth $750,000 to return to Italy with Liberto Livorno.
It was after his playing career when Jeelani reportedly became addicted to drugs and alcohol in the 1990s amid turmoil in his personal life.
Jameel Ghuari, a high school and college teammate of Jeelani, told the Journal Times: “To me, he was easily the best scorer to ever come out of Racine. Scoring for him was such a natural thing.”
No bucket ever meant more than the one that gave Jeelani unique his place in Mavericks history.