It begins at the Taggart Family YMCA in downtown Ottawa, Ont., – the same place Farouk Meguader has been coming for open gym since he was six years old. The front desk staff sit in the right corner of the lobby floor, working in silence as the evening March wind intensifies outside.
Now and then, an abrupt bang from a basketball hitting a plexiglass backboard echoes through the hallways. Sounds of exhilaration travel from the floor above, of a group of amateur hoopers reacting to a successful take.
Meguader is no stranger to this court, but the 18-year-old trick shot artist from Gatineau, Que., also holds an impressive following for his young age. Despite posting his first official video over one year ago, he has 76,600 followers on his Instagram page as of July 30, 2020. They call him the Moroccan Mamba, an homage to his Moroccan background and the late Kobe Bryant – his favourite player growing up. He asked his friends what their opinions were on his new nickname. They liked it, so he stuck with it.
“It’s like, what’s his name, Drake,” Meguader says, referring to the Toronto-born artist. “His name is Aubrey, right? But he goes by Drake. So, that’s basically who I portray, myself. That’s my persona.”
When he was younger, Meguader was taken under the wing of his cousin Yasiin Joseph, who wrapped up his final year as a guard with the Carleton men’s basketball program last March. Joseph was the first to take Meguader to play basketball at the park. From instilling mental toughness to encouraging him to be more durable and consistent with his game, Joseph was more than family to Meguader. He was his trainer, his mentor, and his motivation for pursuing basketball.
During high school, Meguader’s friend told him about a popular trick shooter named Tristan Jass, or T-Jass, as Meguader calls him. To Meguader, Jass wasn’t an inspiration, but he was a real-life example of how he could turn his passion into a profitable brand. His friends were pushing him to make videos, but the pursuit had to wait.
He wanted to wait until he finished high school to focus on making videos and building his trick-shot brand. In the summer of 2018, he made his debut when he hit a spinning fade-away shot while playing one-on-one with his friend in the YMCA gym. Meguader’s other friend recorded the action with his phone, so the Moroccan Mamba posted it on Instagram. At the time, Meguader thought nothing of it.
After graduating from Notre Dame High School last spring, he posted another trick shot to his Instagram – eight months after uploading the first one. A between the legs dribble, behind the back fake, and a spin move as he bounces the ball behind to his left side while only using his left hand – all while behind the three-point line. He then drives to the net and makes a couple of dribbles before doing an under-arm layup from the back while spinning in mid-air.
Overtime Canada reposted the video the next day, an Instagram page dedicated to promoting Canadian sports talent. The exposure was something Meguader had never seen before. The views began piling in. Within one day, his account grew by 8,000 followers. He had caught his big break early. That rush of adrenaline and happiness filled his body as he called his friends to tell them what happened.
“I want to get my mom taken care of”
“I’m not an NBA player, but I’m around basketball, and I could be around basketball for a long time if I do this. So that’s motivating me to follow my dreams,” he says. “I want to make money off this. I want to get my mom taken care of, everything. That’s the whole goal.”
The Moroccan Mamba enjoyed the success of his second video and was ready to commit to uploading on a weekly schedule. He was posting one video, sometimes even two videos, a week to make sure his supply kept up with the demand of a growing viewership. Each video opened with a voice behind the camera saying, “Eh yo, Moroccan Mamba!” This quickly became a recurring theme for future uploads. Three months later, Meguader was facing a dilemma over whether or not to upload a new shot.
The rise of the Glitchshot
The shot involved him standing at the top of the arc, turning to his left side – away from the rim – and shooting a regular jump shot with the side of his hand. At first, Meguader wasn’t impressed with the trick. He didn’t think it was good enough for the quality his audience had come to expect. He sent the video to his friends and his brother, whose opinions he could trust. They all shared the same sentiment: It was okay, but nothing crazy.
His uncle messaged him back, saying he was “crazy” if he didn’t put it online. So, he posted it and called it a “glitchshot” at his uncle’s behest. The video was a viral hit, receiving shoutouts from House of Highlights, Overtime Canada, TheScore, and Bleacher Report.
The shot inspired him to create a sequel a month later called the glitchshot 2.0, and eventually the glitchshot 3.0, where he hit a jump shot using the force of his elbow. The first and second glitchshot videos have each earned over 100,000 views.
“Good thing my uncle messaged me,” Meguader says.
Meguader’s hard work eventually got the online basketball community’s attention and allowed The Moroccan Mamba to connect with other high-profile hoopers. In 2019, he attended the Reebok 3v3 Streetball Knockout in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he met Jass and CashNasty – who makes basketball-related content on Twitch, YouTube and Instagram.
Last December, he was in Toronto meeting up with entertainer Soufiane “Souf” Bernoukh and eventually met with Junior Emmanuel College women’s basketball player Jamad Finn to help with a basketball camp she was hosting at the OVO Athletic Centre. Even the brand has turned into a serious full-time gig for Meguader. He’s developed a pressure-free routine where he can upload consistently, without feeling the fatigue that comes from spit-balling new shot ideas weekly.
However, the challenge remains the same as it did from the beginning: How high can Meguader push his career until he runs out of ideas?
“You have a basketball. What else are you going to do?” Meguader says.
“You going to put it around your back? How many times you going to do it?”
“So that’s why I got to think of new things to do. Maybe I do a shot [where] I kick it. I throw it behind me, do a backflip. I don’t know, things like that. It’s got to be creative.”
Trick shots require the patience to persist no matter how many times you miss. The level of enthusiasm from your previous shot must remain the same from when you attempted your first, and the creativity to change plans in the heat of the moment when it’s not working or when there’s a better way to execute.
Coming up with a shot that audiences have never seen before, can take time. They can come as simple as listening to music while sitting on the bus. When random thoughts come, he writes them down in his notes, stashing them away for a later date.
“I probably won’t even try for a few weeks,” Meguader says. “I’ll go see if it’s possible. If it’s possible, then I’ll get my friend to record and keep recording until I make it.”
Impossible two ball behind the back shot
People told him it was impossible – that it couldn’t be done. He heard it so often that when the time came to write the video’s caption, the phrase, “Everyone told me I would never make this shot,” was a natural choice. The video dates back to Jan. 23, 2020, but the thought first came to him last June. The shot involved Meguader standing at the half court line with a ball in each hand, dribbling to the top of the arc and hitting a three with both balls behind his back.
A few weeks later, after testing its feasibility, Meguader spent five sessions – which lasted a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes each – trying to capture the shot on camera. Despite his dedication, he still couldn’t hit it. His right hand seemed fine since that was his traditional shooting side. The trouble came when he had to use his left hand at the same time.
True to his character, Meguader was back on the court, where he spent a week practicing the unorthodox technique focusing solely on his left arm. When he returned for his next attempt, with his friend recording from the side, Meguader dribbled twice to the arc before launching both balls.
The first ball hit cleanly, but the second ball – the one he struggled to get with his left hand – had a higher arc. The difference was a split second before the second ball banked off the board and through the netting.
Hopping and spinning in excitement with his fists clenched and tucked into his body, Meguader unleashed an emphatic yell in front of the small crowd before walking over to slap his colleague’s hand in celebration. It took Meguader nearly an hour to hit the shot – the longest he’s ever spent in one day for a video.
“I proved them wrong, and I’m still trying to prove them wrong,” Meguader says.
Meguader and other ballplayers, most of them his friends, are back in the YMCA gym, wrapping up a new video with his close friend and fellow trick shot protégé, Mohamed Ahmed, who goes by his Instagram handle Playoff Mo. Meguader walks over to the other side of the court, which has been split in half by a white and blue curtain. He takes a seat on the bench before pulling out his phone for a social media break.
His break ends after eight minutes and returns the court to engage in a friendly two-on-two pick-up game. Hassan Awad, a friend of Meguader’s, watches from the side while sitting on another bench wearing a purple University of Ottawa Gee-Gees t-shirt.
“He’s a clown,” Awad says sarcastically before briefly pausing. “But when it comes to basketball, he’s not bad.”
An hour into the session, Meguader engages in a King’s Court one-on-one game with four other players. The rules are simple: whoever hits a basket first stays on, the loser takes a seat and switches off with the next challenger. A few minutes go by, and Wassim Fahmand, another friend of Meguader’s, hits the Moroccan Mamba with a step-back three. The bucket pushes Meguader off the court, for now.
“Should I get serious?” Meguader asks.
“If you want to,” another player responds.
He proceeds to take off his black Adidas track pants, revealing the flexible black athletic shorts underneath as if wearing the pants was but a warmup. He folds them in his arms and tosses them onto the bench before making his way back onto the court.
Calm and collected as before, but his expression has changed to a stern glare – his focus solely on his opponent’s eyes as he projects in his mind where his next move will be. Meguader doesn’t mind joking around, but he’s also got a reputation to protect.
He roars in disapproval every time he misses a layup or a shot bounces off the rim, but follows up with a smile, the same one he’s come to be recognized by everyone he meets on and off the court.
The squeaks of his cherry-red Nikes shock the ears from planting his feet on the wood surface. His red t-shirt, which shows a green interlaced pentangle and ‘Morocco’ letter-design on the front, looks as fresh as it did when he walked into the gym. His signature thick curly dark hair remains as lush as it did at the start of the night. In a matter of seconds, Meguader has seemingly switched into another gear – a Mamba mentality.
“You can’t shoot, bro,” one player chirps.
Meguader dips his shoulder and drives to the rim. He leaps into the air, contorting his body just enough to finish the 360 before tossing the ball up – all while having his defender smothering him.
“Every time he does that shit, it cheeses me,” the same player says.
It’s starting to get late. They’ve been playing for an hour now, and the intensity and energy have not changed. Sweat is now glistening on his forehead and neck as it catches the sheen of the ceiling lights above. It’s time to head home.
Meguader walks over to the bench, puts on his pants and walks out the doors with his coat and bag in hand. Another day in the gym – where it all started.