Grand Forks, North Dakota.
If you’re like most of us, this is not a destination on your bucket list.

You didn’t grow up as a kid dreaming of the day you’d be squad deep in a city with a population of 58,000 — a city where the Flood Memorial Monument and the River City Speedway serve as Friday and Saturday night.

Luqman Jaaber didn’t imagine he’d leave his mark in the state of North Dakota — well, that’s not all the way true.

Many youngsters who pick up a basketball picture themselves hitting the game winning shot in the biggest game of their life.

We’ve all done it in our heads.
Three seconds left on the clock. Team down by two.
Hoisting up a three at the buzzer.

Maybe there’s a desperate defender’s hand in your face.
Maybe you’re beating a double-team.

Swish.

Cue “One Shining Moment.”

And then you wake up.

If you talk to any athlete, they’ll tell you they’ve had this dream. Luqman lived it.

Jaaber had his eyes set on winning a national championship. At first, he thought he’d do it at Virginia State University.

Life did not see it that way.

Through maturity and a second chance, he went to none other than Virginia Union University — his former team’s biggest local rival.

“I had some time to mature and really understand the significance of this game,” Luqman said.

For Bryant University, that was not a good thing.

Virginia Union captured its 3rd National title on March 26, 2005. They defeated Bryant 63-58.

Bryant was lead by an unheralded, untested bench player in Chris Burns, who went on to score a game high 24 points on 6-10 shooting from deep.

Imagine you’re at the office. You’ve done your research.
You’ve come up with a brilliant proposal you know will gain acclaim by everyone in the room.

Then James the clumsy intern walks in, with coffee for all in hand, and utters out an idea that the entire office goes crazy about. That’s how out of leftfield Burns’s performance was.

 

“They had a kid on their team that averaged six points a game, and he was knocking everything down,” Jaaber said. 

 

Union did not prepare for that unprecedented performance, but it didn’t matter. As the team’s starting point guard and leader, Jaaber stole the inbounds pass and converted two free throws in the waning moments to put the contest out of reach.

After four years and two schools, Luqman had his moment.

“Coach asked us if we wanted to stay the night or board the plane now?” Jaaber said. “And I’ll tell you, it was nothing to do where we were, so we boarded the first plane we could.”

Alums, students, parents and friends were at the airport to celebrate with the newly crowned champions of Division II. His childhood dream was now reality, the pinnacle of an athlete’s career.

The championship was the icing on the cake for Jaaber. The point guard had an illustrious career in the maroon and steel. During his senior year, he led the nation in free throw percentage (89.9) all while amassing a 3.35 GPA as a computer science major. Virginia Union named him their male athlete of the year.

An accomplished athlete, student and leader, that championship season catalyzed him to be as renowned in the Richmond community as he is now. The bond and lessons Luqman learned with that team has been reborn in the work that he does in Richmond.

As the founder of Basketball and Life Lessons, Jaaber offers training and educational support to student athletes of all ages. His company prides themselves in not only developing athletes as players, but as people.

Basketball players in the Greater Richmond area fiend for time in the gym with Luqman.
The former point guard’s demeanor and championship poise is evident when you converse with him.

“I wanted to create a platform that was holistic and included the parents,” he said. “Something happens when that ball stops bouncing,”

Character, integrity, respect and honesty are skills athletes can utilize both on and off the court. Luqman feels these core values will equip the kids he works with to be successful in any arena.

“I’m a familiar face in any neighborhood (in Richmond),” Jaaber said. “I do what I do to change these kids’ lives—to show them they are capable.”

Jaaber equips the kids with group training, private sessions, and even a Friday night grind, with many workouts at Ben Wallace Gymnasium—a building named for another Union legend.

Richmond is home to Luqman. After several seasons at Union as a player and several more as head coach, he isn’t oblivious to the idea of having his business somewhere else, but he finds he can connect with the athletes here because he’s been though it. He recalls his days playing at Union and in the Freedom Classic as moments that have shaped his existence today.

“It’s a lot of history with the Freedom Classic,” he said. “Bringing that culture and history makes it bigger than the game.”

Citing Dr. King, he acknowledges that early on he was unaware of the magnitude involved behind the game. How on the surface, it’s just two teams playing against each other, but over the rest of the week, it highlights the advancement of black people in the area.

“The importance of the game is from a historical standpoint and what we are really celebrating,” he said. “In society today and where we are as a people, the Freedom Classic is a weekend where we can show support to each other as opposed to outdo each other.” 

You’ll see Jaaber at the Freedom Classic this year. He anticipates it to be another great matchup as both teams got the best of each other last season, while State got the final laugh in the NCAAs. It’ll be basketball he claims people will not want to miss out on.

Just to clear the air, he’ll still be pulling for his Panthers.