Mahmoud Abdelfattah is on the fast track to an NBA head coaching job. During a typically busy basketball offseason, the Chicago native and former St. Cloud State University player was named an assistant coach for the Houston Rockets after leading the Rockets’ minor league squad to a league championship.
At each step in his climb up the coaching ranks, Abdelfattah seemingly makes “first-ever” history as a practicing Muslim and a man of Palestinian heritage. In 2019, when he was promoted from assistant to head coach of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Abdelfattah (kind of) became the first Palestinian and the first Muslim head coach in NBA history. The Vipers are the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Rockets; think of a Triple-A team that’s connected to a Major League Baseball team. So while Abdelfattah has achieved those firsts in the broader NBA system, it’ll be another milestone if and when he lands a head coaching job for a big-league NBA team.
In a sense, history is working in his favor. Since the team’s official debut in 2007, two previous Vipers head coaches have gone on to become NBA head coaches: Nick Nurse, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019; and Chris Finch, who led the Minnesota Timberwolves to the 2022 playoffs after a three-year absence. Abdelfattah could become the third Vipers alum to lead his own NBA team sooner than later.
Before that, however, Abdelfattah will serve as an assistant under Houston head coach Stephen Silas. He’ll be joined on staff by two other new hires: longtime veteran coach and former NBA All-Star player Lionel Hollins, and former NBA player and overseas standout Mike Baptiste.
The Rockets are in a rebuilding process after a lengthy run as serious NBA title contenders during the James Harden era. When Harden was traded in early 2021, Houston shifted its focus to developing young talent and acquiring draft picks. Abdelfattah, meanwhile, proved himself effective at working with young talent and players on the fringes of an NBA roster when he achieved success in the G League. He’s already coached some of the players currently on the Rockets while they spent time developing in the G League early in their careers.
Abdelfattah was voted G League Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season, on his way to leading the Vipers to a championship. Rio Grande Valley defeated the Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers affiliate) in the G League Finals, led by 25-year-old league MVP Trevelin Queen, 20-year-old prospect Daishen Nix, and 23-year-old former first-round draft pick Mfiondu Kabengele, among others. With the Rockets, Abdelfattah will be working with a young roster that includes franchise building blocks Jalen Green (20 years old), Jabari Smith Jr. (19), Tari Eason (21) and Alperen Sengun (19). The 6-foot-9 Sengun, who averaged 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds as a rookie last season, is also Muslim, originally from Turkey.