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But his parents recognized their youngest son's exceptional passion for the game, and never had a problem paying for expensive tournaments and travel. The family wore out three vans when El-Amin was growing up, hauling him to games all over the country.
Basketball did occasionally get in the way, however. El-Amin was raised in a Muslim household by two parents who volunteered regularly at their mosque, and devoting every weekend to traveling rarely left much time for worship.
Still, the El-Amins made it work. His brother or father would often deliver makeshift services on those long van rides in between games.
El-Amin's obsession for the game trumped everything else in his life—especially school. His mother, Arlene, recalls a time when she discovered he had missed a few homework assignments, and felt the need to intervene.
"I just called the coach and told him, 'He will not be playing until further notice," Arlene recalls. "It didn't sit very well with him."
El-Amin watched four games from the bench in street clothes before he was allowed to play again.
By the time El-Amin reached high school, it was obvious he would never have the height of an NBA player, even if he was the last realize it.
"I never really noticed I was short," he says. "Of course, I knew if I was looking up at a person, he was taller than me, but being short never occurred to me."
FRESHMAN YEAR AT the University of Connecticut, El-Amin was warming up with his teammates when he saw a University of Virginia fan in the stands trying to get his attention. It took him a moment to realize the guy was holding up a Domino's pizza box.
"Hey, Khalid, are you hungry?!" he remembers the fan screaming, waving the box in El-Amin's direction.
As the starting point guard for UConn, El-Amin quickly found that college basketball was far less forgiving than the high school version. His freshman year, El-Amin weighed a flabby 203 pounds. By the end of his first year, opposing fans in cities across the country were jeering "Doughboy" from the stands.
"Sometimes I was like, 'Why are they saying that?'" says El-Amin. "'Am I fat?' I didn't think I was."
The fat jokes didn't crush El-Amin's spirits. He was UConn's second leading scorer in his freshman year. His prodigious ball-handling combined with his common-man physique were a sight to behold—The Detroit News called him a "hero for fat folks everywhere."
"He's just a hard-nosed, gritty, aggressive player," says Jeff Fox, who wrote about UConn for Sports Illustrated. "He didn't let his size get in the way."
The biggest game of El-Amin's college career arrived on March 29, 1999, when UConn faced Duke University at the NCAA championship. Duke seemed poised to take the title without breaking a sweat; gambling sites gave UConn a nine-point handicap.
But with less than a minute left in the second half, it was anybody's game. El-Amin had sunk a shot with 10 seconds left on the clock that put UConn one point ahead.
Seconds later, a Duke player traveled into El-Amin on the way to the basket, giving Doughboy the chance to clinch the lead at the free throw line. He sank both shots.
"And UConn's done it!" screamed the announcer as time expired.
The cover of the April 1999 edition of Sports Illustrated featured a photo of El-Amin mid-sprint with a full-mouthed scream, holding up a single finger above his head.
"Top Dogs!" read the headline.
IN COMPARISON TO players like 6'7" Ron Artest, El-Amin was a speck on the hardwood of the United Center.
After a few seconds in play, El-Amin picked up the ball and drove it toward the net, but a Dallas defender brought him up short just inside the three-point line.
El-Amin frantically pivoted, looking for a teammate to pass to. The Dallas player towered over El-Amin and El-Amin could barely see around him.
With the shot clock about to run out, El-Amin desperately heaved the ball away to no one. He got lucky and picked up his own rebound, and was able to sink a shot immediately afterward to redeem himself.
After dropping out of UConn before his senior year, El-Amin was picked by the Chicago Bulls in the second round.
But this was not the Michael Jordan-led team that El-Amin grew up worshiping as a kid in Minneapolis. The dynasty had officially dissolved with the departure of legendary players like Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman.
Now the team was a motley crew of fresh draft picks who would have never left the bench in a good year, says K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "It was a bad team, and a bunch of borderline NBA players were playing on it."
And aside from his charisma, El-Amin did little to impress—he averaged six points and three assists per game. The short, chubby kid who had dominated the North High School gym was dwarfed by the NBA stars. The Bulls waived El-Amin before the end of his first season.
"He had a nice enthusiasm to him and an infectious personality, but it was a god-awful team and he really wasn't an NBA player," says Johnson. "That's why his career didn't last very long."