Former NBA player Tariq Abdul-Wahad Reflects On His French Roots and Basketball Career

On the latest edition of “Listen In With KNN”, sports talk radio/podcast show presented by FOX Sports Radio 1340AM/96.9 FM, executive producer and host Kelsey Nicole Nelson welcomed retired NBA player and San Jose State University great, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, to the show.

Abdul-Wahad was born in Maisons-Alfort, France and his love for the game of basketball came from witnessing his mother’s stellar professional basketball career firsthand. He also gained a passion for art, fashion, and etiquette because of his French roots. “It’s not necessarily as much about consumption [than] it is about appreciation of things.” Interestingly, Abdul-Wahad grew up not far from the famous Louvre Museum, the world’s most-visited museum in Paris.  

Basketball has long been a part of Abdul-Wahad’s life. “I grew up in women’s basketball…I have pictures of myself, a little six-year-old kid, with a giant ‘fro and a basketball and a big belly and my mom is taking me to the game,” said Abdul-Wahad.

Abdul-Wahad’s mom started playing basketball at 22-years-old after running track and played professional basketball until she was 36. She played in the European Basketball Championship where she would travel to many countries to play games.

From discussing his mother’s professional basketball career, this prompted Nelson and Abdul-Wahad to discuss the current growth of women’s basketball. Nelson asked Abdul-Wahad his perspective on the debate of men’s versus women’s basketball as someone who coached women’s basketball. “I don’t know what the fuss is about…basketball is basketball,” said Abdul-Wahad. 

As a trainer and coach, Abdul-Wahad talked about his plans to see his players again back on the court after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. “I’m going to be driving around and seeing all these kids that I’ve been coaching since the sixth grade that are now college players,” said Abdul-Wahad. He will also be watching film to get ready for their summer training so he can help them continue to develop their game. 

The game of basketball is one Abdul-Wahad knows well. Abdul-Wahad played at the University of Michigan for two years and then transferred to San Jose State in 1995. His San Jose State jersey is retired in the Event Center Arena under his former name, Olivier Saint-Jean.

This name change came after Abdul-Wahad converted to Islam while in college after living with two roommates that were Muslim. “I knew it was the right choice because it was going to make me a better person…that’s the power of faith in my understanding of things, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish…it focuses your mindset into what needs to get done, it gives you hope when it’s rough, and it keeps you going,” said Abdul-Wahad.

Moving on to his NBA career, Abdul-Wahad was the 11th pick in the 1997 NBA draft. He was selected by the then Sacramento Kings. At the time of his selection, he was the first player to be raised in France and play in the NBA. “It was hard because I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t mind saying what I think…but when you’re the first one, you’re the first one that’s gonna get the punches. You’re the first one that’s going to get the recognition, but you’re also the first one that’s going to get traded,” said Abdul-Wahad.

The NBA has seen continued growth with international players. Abdul-Wahad wants people to remember the talent that France has produced. “France, who is actually not a country that is understood by any part of the world to be a basketball country, is the country that produces the most NBA players coming from outside the United States,” said Abdul-Wahad.

Most recently, France’s men’s basketball team made it to the Gold Medal game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but lost 87-82 against Team USA and they ended up receiving the silver medal in the Olympic Games.

Abdul-Wahad played for eight total seasons in the NBA spending time with the Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, and Dallas Mavericks. While playing, some teammates who best supported him stand out to him when he looks back on his career. Players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Ben Wallace, Bo Outlaw, and Darrell Armstrong all impacted him during his time in Orlando. “They might not know it, but they had a tremendous impact on my life and how I see things,” said Abdul-Wahad.

He also fondly remembers his coach while in Orlando with the Magic, Doc Rivers. “I saw what a coach of the year is.” Abdul-Wahad said. Doc was a master at commanding the respect of the locker room and having the players feel that they would do anything for him. “One of the first meetings we had he said, ‘It’s mandatory for players when they’re talking to the media after the game, to praise their teammate.’…that sets the tone right there,” said Abdul-Wahad.

When it comes to helping the next generation, some advice for young players that want to play in college or professionally Abdul-Wahad would give is, “Keep your head down and work on your game, and then when you get there, pass it forward.”

Recently, Abdul-Wahad earned his Master’s degree in Sports Management from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. This will help him in the business ventures that he hopes to pursue more in this new year. One of these is a Paris-based select basketball club that is playing worldwide. Their goal is to create a preparatory school for players in the United States, helping them be one step closer to a professional basketball career.

Some other business projects he’s been part of were being part-owner in the first Afro-European television channel airing out of France where he got involved through a friend who needed help with the branding and “the look” of the channel. Another project he was involved in was the 610 Clothing brand from Brazil.

To learn more about Abdul-Wahad, check out the episode below! You can connect with Abdul-Wahad on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 


Laura Blanco