When we talk about being Built Different, we’re talking about Jamad Fiin. The Somali Muslim women’s college basketball player is notorious for her viral clips of crossing people up in her traditional hijab and it was a four-second clip of her doing just that on Twitter that launched her into the national spotlight overnight. A leap of faith and several pick-up games after that first taste of fame, Fiin proved to herself and her family that she was capable of so much more.
Like her on-the-court skills, Jamad has been making space for the next generation of female athletes, both Muslim and non-Muslim, around the world. Even as the social media sensation has racked up nearly 2M TikTok followers, fame and notoriety have never been the top priorities. The dominant and soft-spoken baller is a born leader, a trailblazer for representative female athletes, and she’s keeping her focus squarely on being the role model she never got to see.
In 2018, Fiin started free basketball camps for young girls in different cities to help motivate them and boost their confidence. A young, minority athlete herself, Jamad believes in giving the same opportunities for others who look like her. So, as she passes the ball among her fellow teammates, remember Jamad Fiin is just warming up.
StockX Senior Director of Brand Voice, Jamie Delaney: What’s your earliest memory of playing basketball?
Jamad Fiin: My earliest memory of playing basketball was at Timilty Park when I was around eight or nine, just getting rebounds for my [four] brothers and my siblings and just falling in love with the game there and I feel like that really is when I started playing basketball.
I think I fell in love when I first started working out and how dedicated I was to it. I didn’t know I would be that dedicated at such an early age and when I would go after school and then play, and sometimes it was too much. It was literally like a job for me but I feel like that’s when I first started loving it.
Where did that come from? I read about you going to the local YMCA at five in the morning. Was that on you? Did you decide to do that?
Yeah, I felt like everyone was at a higher level than me because I started basketball a bit late and I just wanted to keep up with them and practice. So basically I had to work on the moves that I saw in practice that day. I just used to watch Kobe motivational videos, and how he would wake up early in the morning, and just implemented that into my day. I was a young girl, so everything I watched really had an influence on me. So I was like, “I want to do that. I want to be like him.”
I was obsessed with that, and with Kobe.
How did you stick with it? There’s got to be mornings where you’re like, “Oh I’m so tired”. Where did that drive come from?
I think it came from in ninth grade when I was on an AAU team and I feel like the reason I was so motivated was because I couldn’t play on that team anymore because I couldn’t travel. And since I couldn’t travel, they wanted other girls who were able to travel to be on the team. And once I wasn’t able to be on that team, that’s what gave me the motivation till this day, basically.
That put a chip on you.
Yeah, I was heartbroken.
It was also when I first started playing basketball and I wasn’t as nice as the other girls as well. So I feel like it was not only I couldn’t travel, but I feel like also it was because I wasn’t as good as them.
"As long as the younger generation likes it, it's all good. I don't really care."
Who was the first to recognize your talent?
I think it was going into my eighth-grade year and we would just play. We had a league in Boston. We’d do a league for elementary and middle school kids, and I didn’t know anyone from the community at that point, so I just went on the random team and met some random girls. And there was a coach from the other team that we played against and she told me, “We have gym space where we train girls” and that I should come over and she got my number that night. She told me the times and then I wrote it on my wall and it’s all still on the wall to this day. At first, it was three times a week but then I asked her to come more and I would always go there after school.
And your mom backed you up on dedicating yourself to the game. What did it mean to you to have the support of your parents as you progressed in the game?
If I didn’t have the support of my Dad, I think it would’ve been much harder for me. I was always on my computer, was always searching up practices or workouts or AAU teams to play for. And then I would bring it up to my Dad and I’d be like, “Look at this! Take me there!” And he would always be like, “Yes, I’ll take you there”.
And then my Mom was just fine with it, but it was just her friends and the community, other people in her ear were just being annoying and telling her, “Oh, your daughter’s doing this,” or “She shouldn’t be doing this” because no one in our community ever seen anything like it. So they were just, not surprised, but they were like, “Why are you guys different? Why are you treating your daughter different?” And then all that just got to my Mom and she took that in and then eventually, she finally listened to herself and said: “My daughter can do whatever she wants.”
I feel like the first time that a video went viral was on my 18th birthday, actually, the night of my birthday. And I sent my cousin the video and I said, “Go post this on Twitter and then @ me and say Happy Birthday”. After he posted it, he called me, saying, “Yo, like what’s happening on Twitter?” And then I go check out the video and it’s at million views and overnight, it went crazy. I didn’t really think anything of it, but the next morning, a lot of people were just calling me and everything.
I was just confused as to why it blew up. I feel like it was just a regular video to me, but I feel like it’s because a lot of people don’t really see that type of stuff. And every time I used to post other videos, they would get the same love because no one ever sees a Muslim girl with her whole fit on and playing basketball. They probably didn’t think we were capable of that. So they were probably like, “Oh wow, that’s surprising”. But to me it was just regular, everyday, Timilty Park vibes.
When did you think to post more content for greater impact?
It took me a year to realize that. I feel like I was more focused on getting better at basketball. I think after that video went viral, I’d never posted until a year after. And then once I started posting that the year after, that’s when I was like, “Oh, let me just start posting my fancier tricks” because the other tricks were just simple.
Wow. And what was the feedback you got specifically from the Muslim community?
It was good and bad, but the thing is, I didn’t really care to look at comments or anything. Most of the younger generation loved it, but the older generation is just like, “What are you doing?” But as long as the younger generation likes it, it’s all good. I don’t really care.
What do you hope younger female basketball players, especially younger Muslim female basketball players, take from your journey?
The girls who do look up to me, I want them to realize that they can do anything they want. They can do anything that they put their minds to. I feel like there’s so much restrictions within our culture, specifically. People don’t like anything that’s different. And when other people are in their ears telling them they can’t do something, they could easily go to my page and show their parents they can do it. And just how it’s fun and it’s not really anything bad, and it’s keeping you away from anything negative. And it’s just like I’m the person for them that I wish I had growing up. And just that feeling is good.
What has the game taught you about yourself?
I feel like it’s taught me to be more of myself. I’m not as shy as I used to be before I started playing it. I feel like I can walk in front of a group of people and not get intimidated or scared or anything. I feel like it’s taught me a lot of patience too, with just waiting for your time and getting better every single day and the results will show once you have that patience. It was a huge lesson of patience for me.
"I'm the person for them that I wish I had growing up. And just that feeling is good."
What do you hope that people take away from this partnership with StockX?
I hope people take away from this partnership with StockX, just looking how different you can be and then incorporating your culture, your religion with style and with fashion and really emphasizing you can look good and still be a hooper, still be into fashion and still play a sport, and you don’t always have to look like a tomboy and stuff like that. But you can be stylish, too. You can find your own authenticity.
How did the camps come about?
The girls in my community, we used to practice or do open gym at a community park and none of them wanted to come anymore. And then I felt betrayed obviously, but then the young girls came and I didn’t want to play with young girls. So I decided to just help them, to try teaching them how to dribble, or teaching them how to shoot. And when I started helping them, I liked it. I would always go to summer vacation to Ohio or Minnesota, and those places we have a huge Somali population. And then I posted, “Everybody come to this park, let’s play basketball” on social media, and everybody came.
The first official camp was in Ohio, and it was only girls, in a space that was just closed off to them, and it was fun. It was exciting, and I felt part of that. Because I was 19 at the time, they were like two or three years younger than me, but they were still learning from me and they were excited to be there. That was the best part of it.
I think also for our community, the Muslim community, we usually do tournaments for the boys. The boys would have annual tournaments, two or three tournaments a year in, say Seattle or Minnesota or DC. And I think they’ve been doing it for 20 years, ever since my older uncles were teenagers and I think it was the first time ever that the girls did it. It was the first-ever girls’ tournament, no boys played. It was just girls only. And the amount of love that we got and everybody came out, the whole city came out. It was a very special moment for everyone.
I felt like it was the peak of the moment. I feel like the peak of the camps and everything that we have done for the community. It wasn’t that much, but just imagining how big it can be in the next couple of years. And especially this summer and this upcoming year, how special it will be once we travel to more cities and meet new girls.
How do you hope to grow the camps? What’s the next level?
Just getting more girls. I feel like so far the camps are mainly Somali girls, but it’s because we go to mainly Somali cities and the United States, but more girls from different backgrounds coming to the camps, and girls who haven’t played the sport before and want to make new friends or learn about the game, for them to come and everybody come together, like a clash of cultures and everybody just vibing and chilling at the camp. That would be something that I’m working more towards.
How did Drake get involved?
I think I was in Texas. And then someone DM’ed me like, “@champagnepapi is following you”. At first, I didn’t know who that was – I didn’t know his Instagram name. And then when the random person texted me, I went on Drake’s page and it said “Follow Back.” I wasn’t as surprised because I knew he was a huge basketball fan and I feel like I was such a fan of him at a young age. It was funny.
He helped us with the Toronto camp. He’s very nice. Basically, he was like, “Let’s play one-on-one”. And then I was like, “I’ll just come to Toronto soon and then we’ll play”. And I told him that we were doing a Toronto camp and that maybe when I went there for the camp, then we could play, but then he offered to help.
And then literally a month later, he was like, “Everything’s ready”! He gave my number to somebody and we were in contact and then he got us the practice facility for the Raptors. That was fun.
This is all in Instagram DMs?
It was Instagram DM, yeah.
What are you most excited about right now?
I think what I have coming up that I’m really excited about is definitely going to different cities and going to places outside the country to do these camps and meeting new girls and introducing the sport to new girls. I feel like a lot of the girls that we’ve been with have already been playing basketball, but introducing the sport to younger girls who haven’t even played any sport and getting them to love it in different parts of the world is something I’m really excited for.
Where do you want to be five years from now?
Five years from now, I just want to own my own facility with everything in it.
It’s going to be hard, but a basketball gym, a video game room, a lounge room. A nice community center for the kids in the community.