Abdul Jeelani (born Gary Cole on February 10, 1954 in Bells, Tennessee) was taken by the Mavericks in the expansion draft, from the Portland Trail Blazers, prior to the team's inaugural season in 1980-1981.
Jeelani attended the University of Wisconsin - Parkside leading the school to two NAIA National Tournament appearances in 1974 and 1975. He was named an NAIA All-American in 1975 and 1976 and left UW-P as the Rangers' career leader in points scored (2262) and rebounds (1237). Two decades later, Jeelani was honored as a charter member of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Athletic Hall of Fame.
Signed after graduation as a free agent by the Detroit Pistons, he was released prior to the start of the 1977-1978 season.
After playing that season in the Italian professional league, the Portland Trail Blazers signed Jeelani for the 1979-1980 season. He saw action in 77 games that year averaging 9.6 ppg and 3.5 rpg.
Dallas selected Jeelani in the 1980 NBA expansion draft and he was in the starting lineup of the Mavs first NBA regular season game (with Tom LaGarde, Winford Boynes, Jerome Whitehead and Geoff Huston) against San Antonio on October 11,1980.
Jeelani has the distinction of scoring the very first points in Dallas Mavericks history on an 18-foot jumper in that opening game and hitting the team's first-ever free throw. He went on to appear in 66 games that season, averaging 8.4 rpg and 3.5 rpg.
The 6'8 forward told the Dallas Morning News years later that scoring the franchise's first points was "Absolutely one of the highlights of my career. For a journeyman like myself, that's like the Hall Of Fame, to be forever linked to a franchise in such a way."
Jeelani's fourth-quarter heroics with the Mavs has become something of legend. His first fourth quarter breakout came on December 26, 1980 when he entered the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter and scored 20 points leading Dallas to a 119-111 victory over the Denver Nuggets and the team's fifth win of that long first season.
He did it again on January 13 with 16 points in the final frame as Dallas defeated the Chicago Bulls. Three nights later, Jeelani repeated his late-game heroics with 21 fourth quarter points in a 119-111 win over the New York Knicks and the Mavs' first-ever two-game winning streak. Later that season, on March 15, he scored 31 points against Portland which tied Brad Davis for the most points in a single game in Dallas' first season.
After the 1980-1981 season, Jeelani was waived by the Mavericks, at his own request, to return to his basketball career in Italy. At the time he had been offered the most lucrative contract in European history at $750 thousand for four years. He played another four years in Italy, leading his team to the Coppa Italiana championship in 1985. Jeelani ended his career with two season in Spain.
After returning to the States, Jeelani worked at the Johnson Wax plant in Racine, Wisconsin.
The death of his mother and a divorce sent Jeelani on a downward spiral that included drug use and cancer and ultimately saw him living in a Racine homeless shelter.
Jeelani began the process of turning his life around when he had a series of strokes and multiple surgeries. His final day were spent working with kids in Racine, Wisconsin recreation centers. Sadly, Jeelani passed away from a heart attack in August 3, 2016.