For four years at Penn, Ibrahim Jaaber C’07 made people’s jaws drop at the Palestra because of his incredible basketball talent.
Earlier this week, he did the same thing inside the same venue — only this time it was because of a stirring acceptance speech he gave upon his induction into the Big 5 Hall of Fame.
Jaaber, who spoke eloquently of religion, family and perseverance, closed with an inspiring poem called “Do or Die” — which you can watch here:
Afterwards, virtually every other member of this year’s Big 5 Hall of Fame class, including legendary coach George Raveling and NBA players Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye, mentioned how much Jaaber’s speech touched them. Raveling, especially, was gushing in his praise.
“It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports,” Raveling, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, said to Jaaber. “And I hope you’ll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you.”
What did it mean to Jaaber to hear those kind of words?
“It’s very humbling,” he told the Gazette after Monday night’s banquet ended. “First and foremost, to be in the same sentence, in the same class, as guys like Jameer, Randy Foye, Lynn Greer — amazing careers, all of them. And for me, to be in this particular class, I wanted to make sure I go on the record giving credit where credit is due. I’m happy that people appreciated it but, at the end of the day, it’s more gratifying that I said what I wanted to say.”
Aside from the speech, one of the coolest parts of this year’s Hall of Fame class was that Jaaber played, as a freshman, against Nelson during St. Joe’s undefeated 2003-04 season. “Him and Delonte West were like two lions and I was like a baby deer out there, trying to keep up,” he laughed. And he also got to play against former Villanova great Foye in both high school and college a little more than a decade ago.
“He was the guy who I had to measure myself against,” Jaaber said. “He was that caliber player, who I knew I had to work to be like. I have the utmost respect for him and his career and his humility. And he’s still undefeated against me.”
While Foye and Nelson have both enjoyed long NBA careers since dominating the Big 5, Jaaber took a different route, playing in Europe before stepping away for personal, religious reasons.
He says he might like to restart his career, perhaps in the Middle East, where he’s hoping to move with his family.
Bu it became clear to everyone inside the Palestra on Monday that Jaaber has many other talents and a lively passion for life for that goes well beyond sports.
You can check out some more of his spoken-word poetry on his YouTube channel. And here’s another look at his poem, “Do or Die.”
— Dave Zeitlin C’03