Mahershala Ali made history on Sunday by becoming the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Less significantly, he also became the first former Division-I basketball player to win.
If you’re thinking, “Wait a second, Denzel Washington looked pretty good in He Got Game,” he never made it above JV during his time at Fordham.
Ali was known as Mahershala Gilmore before converting to Islam in 2000, which might explain why his basketball career hasn’t been well publicized. But sure enough, Ali attended St. Mary’s (CA) on a basketball scholarship and played four varsity seasons as a guard.
The stats might help explain why, but Ali never really dreamed of making it to the NBA.
“It was about getting a basketball scholarship to a Division I school. Once I got that, I didn’t set a realistic next goal on how to get to the NBA, which is perhaps for the best,” Ali told GQ in August. “I fell into acting. A teacher gave me an opportunity to be in a play and it came a little easy to me. When it got difficult was when I decided to study acting and I went to grad school. I felt like if I got [into NYU] this was what I was supposed to pursue. It just so happened that it worked out.”