Jamad Fiin started playing basketball at a young age — it all started when she saw her brother hooping and wanted to join in at the neighborhood courts. From there, Fiin’s love of basketball only grew as she played in her community league in Boston. Her game was tested with players who were better than her at the time, which only motivated Fiin to compete against them and rise above.
Jamad Fiin's Instagram
“When people saw I started playing in college they were like how the heck did she go from playing from high school to college with Muslim Somali parents,” Fiin said. “And that was a shock that I got it that far.”
There weren’t many visibly Muslim athletes on the courts with Fiin but she didn’t feel left out.
“I played with predominantly black girls,” Fiin said. “They made me better…The only thing different was that it was very rare to see a Muslim girl play.”
Fiin grew up in an area of Boston with a strong Somali community. At first, Fiin’s mother didn’t want her playing because she saw basketball as a distraction and thought it was, well, kind of embarrassing for her daughter to want to play.
Imagine you’re cast in a 90s, early 2000s movie, with the tropes and gender roles. Your mother was once cheerleader captain and has a daughter who only wants to play chess. Except in this case, Fiin was trading in her mother’s expectations for basketball. It may not be the most perfect analogy, but the point is, Fiin had her own vision for what her life looked like, and in a classic coming-of-age milestone moment, the protagonist breaks away and creates their own plot line.
“I wouldn’t say I was a rebel,” Fiin said. “I was a test dummy in a way. A lot of girls probably have stories of wanting to play in high school and their parents said no. Like a lot of people don’t know the story of how I grew up. They just now saw I started posting videos freshman year of college.”
Fiin had been playing on the women’s basketball team at Emmanuel College when she caught Twitter’s attention in a trending moment when her cousin posted a video of her hooping in an abaya, breaking ankles of the local boys on the basketball court. The popularity of the video took Fiin by surprise.
“In our community, we have a lot of boys tournaments,” Fiin said. “Like twice a year, they always come together and go to a specific city. No one ever did that for the girls growing up, like when we were 18, 19, my friends and I were like ‘let’s just do it.’”
Fiin found inspiration in her frustrations and together with her friends, they organized the first basketball tournament for Muslim girls in Minnesota, another Somali-sauce hot spot. Puma also helped out by sponsoring the whole event, along with the help of small businesses, and made a very sick tournament come to life.
“There are companies out there willing to help, they just need someone to initiate it,” Fiin said.
Her edge was evident in the way Fiin carried herself on the court — she already saw herself as a baller, she was a basketball player, and she made everyone else put respect on her game.
Eventually, Fiin captured the attention of Drake. He’d seen and heard of Fiin’s skills on social media, and also heard about the friendly basketball tournaments she had started organizing for the girls in her community interested in basketball. That’s when Drake reached out to Fiin.
“[Drake’s] a big basketball fan and he also likes meeting Somalis, his best friend is Somali too, he already knows the culture, and he’s from Toronto so you can’t walk around without seeing a Somali there so like he already knew of the culture and everything,” Fiin said. “And he was just impressed by the videos I used to post and everything. When I told him I was going to come to Toronto, he was like ‘I’d love to help.’”
With the help of Drake’s connections, Fiin was given the opportunity to host a basketball tournament for high school girls at Scotiabank Arena — where the Toronto Raptors play. When it came time to head to Toronto, Fiin’s parents joined her in the journey — her parents always made it a point to make sure one of them was in attendance at every game, even though her mother had previous objections.
“My parents and I, we all drove up there to Toronto,” Fiin said. “It was like probably one of the best camps we ever did.”
Teams of girls came from Seattle, Toronto, the DMV area, Boston, and Ohio to play with the fire of a healthy rivalry. By day four of the tournament, it was obvious the competitors had become friends at a huge sleepover. They created an environment where friendships and connections were made all over the country. And that’s amazing.
“Now you can see they comment on each other’s Instagrams, they all know each other, it’s like a little community basically,” Fiin said.
Aside from the obvious health benefits of sports, they’re also a tool of connection and community building, as well as positive development.
“[Basketball] made me more out there,” Fiin said. “I used to be very shy, now it’s very easy for me to talk to people, talk in front of crowds and everything. And just like the impact it has made on me, like me making videos with my hijab on…other girls are not shying away from it now.”
The goal for Fiin is to keep doing what she loves while helping other people get there too, but she makes it a point to represent her Muslim faith.
Or maybe Fiin’s just being herself, a Muslim woman, who plays ball, who wears heels and trainers, a story we’re familiar with of a girl who can do both, with an added twist. One thing Fiin’s definitely doing is pierce the imaginations of young girls so they can dream of becoming an athlete, with the truth that the dream CAN be a reality and isn’t far-fetched.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Jamad Fiin’s Instagram