Some NBA players never stay in the league long enough to become stars, All-Stars or win an NBA title. In some cases, they become part of history without even being great. Abdul Qadir Jeelani (born Gary Cole, 1954-2016) was one of such players.
When 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.
According to NBA’s official website, Jeelani died at age 62 (original report from Racine Journal Times).
“Absolutely one of the highlights of my career. For a journeyman like myself, that’s like the Hall of Fame, to be forever linked to a franchise in such a manner,” Jeelani told the Dallas Morning News in 2011, recalling his first Mavericks basket.
Jeelani lasted only two seasons in the NBA, one with the Portland TrailBlazers, one with the Dallas Mavericks. He was out of the NBA after the 1980-81 season, playing in a total of 143 games, averaging career totals of 9.0 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 16.7 mpg.
Jeelani was able to continue his basketball career in Europe, but a difficult post-basketball period derailed his life. He battled alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, diabetes and cancer.
Jeelani was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 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.
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