Accessorized logo pose. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
In the bridge of the ubiquitous hit Hey Ya!, Andre 3000 asks the audience a question: What's cooler than being cool?
The answer, evidently, is "ice cold." That's presumably because Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was just nine years old when The Love Below came out.
I've spent two weeks trying to come up with a better, deeper premise than "cool guy is cool" but sometimes a thing is so obvious it must be acknowledged. Before he ever stepped on the court at Michigan, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was cool. He was a local high school basketball legend with no high-major offers until John Beilein came along at the eleventh hour. Being the overlooked two-star suited him well. Oh, you haven't heard of MAAR? Caught 'm at Allentown. Remember the name. You'll hear it again.
There's the name itself. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, aka Rahk, aka Ham (pronounced haam), the man containing four names, two hyphens, and the GOAT. In retrospect, our site's decision to mostly go with the MAAR acronym is unsatisfying. Rahk deserved better than Mawr.
Then there's the intro. When his name came over the speakers, Abdur-Rahkman would dap up his teammates, reach the designated leader of the bench mob, and bow. Understated? Sure. Undeniably cool? Indeed.
Young Rahk with Dak. [Paul Sherman]
There are the accessories. Oh, the accessories. While we didn't really notice until the pink shoes, Abdur-Rahkman has always accessorized. From the beginning, he wore leggings that came down well past his shorts, usually with just enough space above the sock to flash a little calf, like Philly legend Kobe Bryant. He layered a matching T-shirt under his jersey. Later, he'd add an elbow sleeve, but just the one, like Philly legend Allen Iverson. For a brief, glorious couple games, he also rocked rec specs, like Cupertino legend Kurt Rambis.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
But it was really about the pink shoes. While they were worn initially for charity, then out of necessity when his usual kicks were in the belly of a crashed plane, they just worked for him. Rahk donned the distinctly loud pair all through the 2017 postseason run, and after an underwhelming start to his senior year, he dug them out of a trash bag to play out his final season in style. Maybe another player could've pulled it off because of superstition. A few other Wolverines occasionally busted out the pink Nikes. Nobody else on the team, however, could make them look downright good with Maize and Blue.
Shirt. Sleeve. Leggings. Shoes. Buckets. [Sherman]
Beyond all of the above, though, was the game itself. Like Miles Davis stretching the bounds of improvisation, Abdur-Rahkman created angles to the basket out of thin air, then contorted himself to find the right finishing touch. That could be adding a little english to a low bank, rising up for a dunk, or, say, putting up a teardrop from heaven over Mo Bamba.
Shot was so cool it froze the net, apparently.
While those herky-jerky drive-and-finishes were always a staple of Rahk's game, he had to work on the rest. With assistance from Beilein and Co., he turned a funky-looking jumper (29% on threes as a freshman) into a jumper that brought the funk (37% for the rest of his career). His defense over the last half of his career, especially his season as captain of Beilein's best-ever defensive team, belied his often lackadaisical efforts on that end of the floor to begin his Michigan tenure. Where he once engendered uncertainty, he inspired confidence:
The coolest child.
When I asked our photographers for their favorite player subject of the Beilein era, Abdur-Rahkman's name came up most often. A tour through the archives makes it easy to see why:
[Clockwise from top L: Patrick Barron, Bryan Fuller, Campredon, Campredon.]
The defining moment of an accomplished Michigan career would come on January 15th, 2018, in a home game against Maryland. Abdur-Rahkman stepped to the free-throw line for his first attempts of the night. It had not been a memorable game for him, at least not in any good way; he'd gone 2-for-9 from the field and the favored Wolverines found themselves 1.2 seconds away from an upset. Not many players would relish going to the stripe in such a high-pressure situation, especially on the heels of such a bad performance.
Rahk needed to hit both free throws to win the game. His face looked like this:
He hit both free throws. Michigan won the game. They'd lose three more all season before the national title game. That's when, rather appropriately, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored a quiet 23 points before exiting atop the school record book in all-time games played.
Rahk may not have his jersey lifted into the rafters or be the subject of a 30 for 30 or even have an NBA career. But for one night—and really, probably, for four years—he was the baddest, most cold-blooded dude in Ann Arbor, and that's pretty damn good, too.