Worth the Wait

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir of New Leadership in Springfield, Mass., watches her Massachusetts state-record-breaking free throw fall. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Basketball was invented here 100 years before Rebecca Lobo set the state's high-school scoring record for girls or boys, and it's doubtful that James Naismith could have envisioned such an evolutionary leap for his creation. Yet, here we are, 18 years later, in the embryonic days of the Yes-We-Can era, after all, and it's still difficult to imagine a media posse in a hot and packed gym, recording every precious move by a teenaged American girl with a Muslim name who plays basketball with head and limbs covered in accordance with the customs of her religious beliefs.

And Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir kept them all waiting on Monday night at the School of Commerce gymnasium. Through a frenzied first quarter, and another, nerve-wracking, 2 minutes, 33 seconds of the second, she made them wait. Through a missed layup, a couple missed jump shots and, even, two missed free throws.

Shoot, it had taken a generation for this confluence of circumstances to assemble, a few more minutes was nothing.

"I kind of wanted the anticipation to build for everyone," said the New Leadership Charter School senior, who entered the game needing three points for the record. "I knew it would take at least a quarter to do it. I tried to get into a groove before I started jacking up threes."

Abdul-Quaadir scored her 2,711th career point, almost anticlimactically on a free throw with 5:27 left in the second quarter of New Leadership's 51-35 loss to Commerce, and let out a sigh of relief just before being mobbed by teammates and opposing players. The game was stopped for several minutes, for presentations, proclamations and speeches, and so a few more microphones could be thrust in the face of the composed, Memphis-bound guard.

An iconic record, held by one of the most recognizable names in women's basketball history, had fallen and about the only one non-plussed by this fact was the new record holder.

"I think everyone else was more excited about it than I was," Abdul-Qaadir said. "I didn't know all these people would be here."

She may have been the only one. New Leadership, in fact, gave up a home game to stage the event at a bigger gym to accommodate the media crush and extra fans, which included Memphis State coach Melissa McFerrin.

In spite of her protestations, Abdul-Qaadir demonstrated a pretty keen sense of history as she stalked the milestone of a player who was 13 inches taller. The 5-foot-3 guard erupted for 51 points two games earlier at Southwick, Lobo's alma mater, then scored another 39 in front of Lobo at the Hoophall Classic the next game. Lobo was on assignment for ESPN and missed Abdul-Qaadir's 28 points, some 13 points below her average, on Monday night.

Abdul-Quaadir has known about Lobo for years, having attended camps and clinics conducted by the former Connecticut and WNBA star. She met the prospective Hall of Famer for the first time a few years ago at Springfield College, the place where Naismith invented hoops with peach baskets in 1891. The meeting took place in a bathroom, Abdul-Qaadir said. Lobo was in a stall and Abdul-Quaadir and her friends loudly and positively talked up their hero.

When Lobo emerged, she told the girls, "I know you were saying those things because you knew I was in here," Abdul-Qaadir recalled. But she stopped and addressed them all, as graciously as Abdul-Qaadir would address the interviewers, well-wishers and autograph seekers after breaking Lobo's record on a chilly, previously unimaginable evening years later.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.