After learning of the release of the Toronto Raptors’ Nike Pro Hijab — announced Friday morning through a video on the team’s Twitter account — “the 12-year-old Shireen in me screamed with joy,” said Ahmed, a 42-year-old sportswriter, podcaster and longtime athlete.
The Raptors-branded sports hijab, the first of its kind in the NBA, has been in the works since the playoffs this past spring, said Jerry Ferguson, senior director of marketing at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The inspiration to release the hijab came from the Hijabi Ballers, Ferguson said, referring to a group of young Muslim women in Toronto who play basketball every Sunday, and advocate for increased participation of Muslim women in sports.
“There was a story about them that came out during the playoffs in the Star talking about how we connect with our diverse group of fans, and that’s where the idea came from. We were very inspired by them,” Ferguson said.
Hijabi Ballers helped to design the black hijab — which will be priced at $39.99 at Scotiabank Arena — and the group was featured front and centre in Friday’s launch video.
The founder of Hijabi Ballers, Amreen Kadwa, said she’s happy with the end product, adding the Raptors were “amazing” in showcasing what the group was about.
The Raptors’ support, Kadwa said, is “creating an atmosphere where girls who play basketball can do so with more confidence and more empowerment, and actually feel welcome in that space.”
“It’s just the beginning of our relationship with the Raptors and with Nike,” Kadwa said. “And it can only move forward from here. We see a lot of potential for our partnership to grow.”
In an interview in August, Raptors team president Masai Ujiri told the Star’s Bruce Arthur about the issues he encountered sending hijabs to Somalia, as part of Nike’s Giants of Africa signature gear camp.
“They got stolen, or lost, and it broke my heart,” Ujiri said. “We never found them. We found everything else, we took everything else to the camp.”
MLSE spokesperson Dave Haggith told the Star that the Raptors will be working with Giants of Africa to get a new batch of hijabs to Somalia.
For her part, Ahmed called the Hijabi Ballers’ recent work “magnificent,” and praised the Raptors’ support. She said the move reminds Muslim women, and everyone else, that they are involved and reflected in the sport.
But Ahmed said she’d like to see similar initiatives from other teams and leagues, especially the WNBA and NHL.
“If I saw a Montreal Canadiens hijab, I would buy one in a second,” said Ahmed, a self-described Habs fan.
“There’s always a market for this, I just think that, unfortunately, a lot of places didn’t feel that it was worthy,” she said.
But for all the challenges ahead, both Kadwa and Ahmed said the release of the hijab is a step in the right direction.
“We’re out there,” Ahmed said of female Muslim athletes. “It’s just that now we’re being seen.”