There's a moment that every big brother dreads: When the younger brother thinks he can mount a challenge for sibling supremacy.
It was the summer of 2002, between Amir Abdur-Rahim's sophomore and junior seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. He had just led the Lions in scoring that season, averaging nearly 16 points a game. He was on an emotional high and thought it might be the summer that he could finally beat his older brother, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, in a one-on-one basketball game.
The only problem for Amir was that his big brother Shareef was no ordinary basketball player.
Oh, no, he was much more than that.
"Amir doesn't like to lose at anything," Shareef said with a chuckle. "He's probably one of the most competitive people I know."
By 2002, Shareef was already an established star in the National Basketball Association, having won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in Sydney, Australia, and being a perennial NBA All-Star.
Each morning that summer, Shareef, Amir and their younger brother Mohammad, who played college basketball at University of Detroit Mercy, would wipe the sleep from their eyes, grab a quick breakfast and start their first of two daily workouts in Shareef's state-of-the-art facility behind his house.
The mornings were spent lifting weights, going through drills and working on various moves and shots. After lunch and a little time to relax, the three brothers were back at it for a second evening session that featured one-on-one games.
It was a kind of king of the hill, no-holds-barred competition that Shareef always won.
The full-court games were epic and the competition was fierce.
"You played games to like 14 points and you had to win four games to win the series," Amir remembers. "I could take a game or two off of Shareef, but never could get that fourth game."
But Amir thought this could be his time to finally knock his older brother off the hill.
There was one night in particular that Shareef remembers, when his younger brother stopped being his sibling and started to be a viable threat to his dominance on the court.
"You could look into his eyes and see the determination," Shareef said. "He was turning into a great player. You could tell he wanted it and I knew then that I'd have to play my best if I wanted to beat him. "
In the end Shareef won, but from that point on, he knew nothing short of his best would be good enough to beat his younger brother.
"I saw the hard work he'd been putting into his game and his focus," Shareef said. "I know how far he'd come. I couldn't help but be proud of him."
It's that attitude, work ethic and focus that has made Amir, now 32 and the associate head coach at the College of Charleston, one of the most respected young college basketball coaches in the country.
A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 72 percent of black children grow up in single-parent homes.
It's a mind-numbing statistic and one that Abdur-Rahim has never taken for granted.
While his mother and father divorced when he was 9, his father, William, has remained a strong influence in his life to this day.
"My dad was my first coach and I'm forever grateful to him for that," Abdur-Rahim said. "There are a lot of fathers that might have left after a divorce, but he didn't. He's been there for me each step of my life and that's a big part of what made me the person I am today."
It was his father's blue-collar work ethic that drove Abdur-Rahim throughout his childhood. William put in long hours on the docks of a nearby Atlanta freight company, working his way up to a managerial position.
"I watched how hard he worked and that was the example I wanted to follow," Abdur-Rahim said. "If you didn't want to go to school or do your homework, he was the kind of father that made sure you did it. You didn't want to disappoint him."
When William wasn't around, Shareef would step in and act as a surrogate father figure. Again, it was his older brother's work ethic that inspired Abdur-Rahim to greater heights.
"I've had great male role models in my life and I understand the significance of having a positive African-American male role model when you're a kid," Abdur-Rahim said. "There are not enough of them around, so to have those two in my immediate family really helped in my development as a man. I think about how lucky I've been in that regard and I'm thankful every day that I had them in my life."
While Abdur-Rahim has 12 brothers and sisters and is one of the oldest of the children, he was one of the last to get married.
Living in Atlanta in 2010, he attended his best friend's Fourth of July party. His buddy, Trea Reed, mentioned that a specific girl might show up and that Abdur-Rahim might want to meet her.
"I remember, I was like, 'OK, sure, whatever,' " Abdur-Rahim said.
After the fireworks, the party began to break up about midnight and Abdur-Rahim was helping clean up. He and Reed were walking back to Reed's condo when they ran into Arianne Buchanan, who was visiting friends in the area. She was the girl that Reed had been hoping Abdur-Rahim would meet.
"I had forgotten all about her," Abdur-Rahim said.
He couldn't deny there was an immediate connection and neither could she. After brief introductions, the two began to talk.
"You hear the cliche, love at first sight and you're like, 'yeah, yeah, yeah,' " she said. "But I have to say that I was definitely intrigued by him the minute we met. He was the perfect package that you envision of what a person is going to be like. The one you are going to spend the rest of your life with and that was Amir."
The conversation drifted all over the map with very few of those awkward silences between people who've just met. They talked until dawn.
At that point, Abdur-Rahim announced he was hungry and their first "unofficial date" was for breakfast at a Waffle House.
"As sophisticated and as smart as she is, she's so down to earth and going to Waffle House was fine with her," Abdur-Rahim said. "She just kind of rolls with stuff and that's one of the reasons I love her so much."
Arianne, who had come up from Orlando, Fla., stayed the week with friends and a romance quickly blossomed.
Four months later at Abdur-Rahim's family's Thanksgiving dinner in Atlanta, he popped the question. After saying grace and with more than 20 family and friends looking on, he proposed to her right at the dinner table.
She immediately agreed.
"I was shocked, I never saw it coming," Arianne said. "It was amazing."
The two lived in different cities, she in Orlando and he in Atlanta, during the first year of their engagement. They both learned that distance does make the heart grow fonder.
"When we got together, it definitely made me appreciate the time we had together," she said.
Abdur-Rahim learned at an early age it wasn't always going to be easy to follow in the footsteps of a famous older brother.
"I think by college I was comfortable in my own skin. But back in middle school and high school, people expected me to be him," he said.
Shareef had been one of the top high school basketball players in the nation, getting more than 100 scholarship offers. He eventually signed with the University of California in Berkeley and the whole family moved to the San Francisco area.
Amir was a freshman and went to De La Salle High School, a prestigious all-boys Catholic school near San Francisco.
"Shareef was having a great year at Cal and so everyone just assumed I was going to play like him," Abdur-Rahim said.
When Shareef jumped to the NBA the next season, the family went back to Georgia where Abdur-Rahim played for Wheeler High School in Marietta, a bedroom community northwest of Atlanta. He was one of the top guards in the state his senior season and eventually landed a scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana.
Stubborn and competitive almost to a fault, Abdur-Rahim admits he wasn't always the easiest player to coach. Lions head coach Billy Kennedy and his pupil butted heads on more than a few occasions.
"Looking back on it, I wish I had listened to Coach Kennedy when I was a freshman and sophomore," he said. "It wasn't until the end of my sophomore season that I really came around and started to understand that he was right most of the time."
That year, Kennedy sat Abdur-Rahim on the bench despite the fact that he was leading the team in scoring.
"He said my attitude wasn't where it needed to be," Abdur-Rahim said.
It was a lesson he would never forgot.
"You have to be accountable for your actions," Abdur-Rahim said. "It's something that I try to instill in my guys all the time."
He finished his career scoring more than 1,200 points and leading the team in scoring three straight seasons. More importantly, Abdur-Rahim helped turn a program that had a 7-20 record to one that went 20-9 and won a regular-season conference title in only three years.
He flirted briefly with a professional career, playing less than a season in the now defunct semi-pro American Basketball Association. When the team folded during the middle of the first season, Adbur-Rahim returned to Atlanta to help tutor up-and-coming basketball players in the area.
A players coach
With his playing career in his rear-view mirror, Abdur-Rahim knew he wanted to go back to school. He called his old college coach looking for advice.
Kennedy had moved on to become an assistant coach at the University of Miami and told Abdur-Rahim he would get him a job as a graduate assistant.
But just as Abdur-Rahim was set on going to Miami, Kennedy took the head coaching job at Murray State in Kentucky. Kennedy offered Abdur-Rahim a spot on his staff and he spent three years there as an assistant coach.
"It was a great learning experience for me," Abdur-Rahim said.
In 2011, Abdur-Rahim made the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference, becoming director of player development at Georgia Tech.
He was there less than a year when he got a call from Doug Wojcik, who had just been hired as the College of Charleston's head coach. Wojcik had met Abdur-Rahim on the recruiting trail and at a couple of tournaments. Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory, like Wojcik, had played at the Naval Academy.
"You meet Amir and it's hard not to be really impressed by him," Wojcik said. "I had known Amir from a distance. He had such a great reputation. He has a great pedigree and he can interact with a lot of different groups. It was a no brainer to hire him."
Abdur-Rahim was at a crossroads in his career. Arianne was planning to move to Atlanta and had just taken the Georgia BAR exam. Now he wanted to move to Charleston, a city she'd never even visited and in state where she'd have to take the BAR exam again.
"It was kind of an abrupt turn of events," she said. "We kind of had a plan and then this offer came along and it really was too good to pass up on. I told him to go for it. I'd heard nothing but great things about Charleston and so far, it's been an amazing experience."
With the Cougars, Abdur-Rahim is a top assistant and works mainly with the post players, a departure from his normal comfort zone of working with guards.
"Amir is the man, everyone loves him," said College of Charleston senior forward Willis Hall. "He's a player's coach, but he's also tough on you, very demanding and honest. He's a guy that's going to put you in situations where you're going to succeed. He's also going to hold you accountable and that's something that every player strives to find."
While not in a hurry, Abdur-Rahim hopes to be a head coach one day.
"I think everyone who gets into this business wants to run his own program one day," Abdur-Rahim said. "It's not like I want it to happen tomorrow. I want to take the right job when it becomes available. I'm happy where I am right now."
Reach Andrew Miller at 937-5599.
College of Charleston assistant basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, 32, is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball.×
College of Charleston assistant basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim has been with the Cougars for two seasons.×
Amir Abdur-Rahim is the younger brother of former NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.×
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