SAN ANTONIO -- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has earned a nickname from his Michigan coaches and teammates, thanks to his decision to unofficially incorporate a new color into his maize and blue uniform.
Pink shoes have become his signature style, a choice that has more to do with superstition and less to do with trying to making a fashion statement.
"We call him Pink Shoes Hamm," Michigan assistant Saddi Washington said with a smile. "Whatever works for those guys, we're all for it."
During the Wolverines' semifinal against Loyola-Chicago on Saturday night, Abdur-Rahkman wore his hot-pink Jordan shoes, as expected. But he had some company. Duncan Robinson, Jaaron Simmons and C.J. Baird had on pink shoes too, and one had to wonder whether there was some inspiration or secret meaning behind the (pink) madness.
Baird explained the team received the pink shoes on Feb. 14 to wear against Iowa to raise awareness for breast cancer. Michigan won 74-59. It turns out that game was the start of the 14-game winning streak that has brought the Wolverines to the national championship game against Villanova.
So perhaps a good luck charm?
"We needed to come out and make a statement, show that we're not on the downfall, and we need to start trending upward," Baird said. "Iowa was a big part of that. We played great defensively, and I think that really set the tone for the rest of the year: 'OK, we can really do this,' and I think a lot of people -- myself included -- look at that night even with the pink shoes as kind of symbolic of the turning point of the season."
Across the locker room, Simmons offered a different reason.
"Nah. My other shoes blew out, so I had to switch to these," he said with a laugh.
Abdur-Rahkman can relate. He started wearing the pink shoes last season because he needed a replacement too. An accident involving the team charter before the Big Ten tournament last year sent players scrambling to find new game shoes.
He had his pink practice shoes in his locker, so he took them. In the first game against Illinois, he scored 17 points. So he wore them against Purdue in the following game, and the following, all the way to a Big Ten tournament championship. Soon, headlines started appearing, asking, "Is it the shoes?"
Obviously, they'd have to stay around for the NCAA tournament.
Once the good luck ran out in the Sweet 16, Abdur-Rahkman stopped wearing them. But a trip home this past December reawakened his "Think Pink" mentality, and he decided to wear them again. Once those Jordan 31s wore out, he turned to the Jordan 32s the team debuted against Iowa.
Then, on Saturday, he had company.
"It's one of those things, you talk about consistency and you want guys to feel comfortable so they can play well, and if that means wearing pink shoes, blue shoes, white shoes, then more power to them," Washington said.
In the open locker room Sunday, Baird had his trusty pink shoes on again because the Wolverines were about to hit the court for practice. He prefers to wear them for practice because they are comfortable.
Next to him, center Jon Teske also wore the pink Jordans. Teske said he, too, would practice in the pink shoes. But it was only because his others had gotten worn out.
"Nothing fancy about it."
Did he think wearing pink shoes in the Iowa game had anything to do with the long winning streak?
"We ended up winning," he said. "I don't remember a lot from it."
A few steps away, Zavier Simpson sat in his locker and shook his head.
"I'm not a fan of the pink shoes because I got injured in pink shoes, and anytime I get injured in some shoes, I don't wear them," he explained.
Was that the Iowa game?
"No, but that was a game I didn't play my best in, which is another reason I don't wear them," he said.
That leads us back to highly superstitious basketball players. Even though Simpson wants nothing to do with wearing pink shoes, he acknowledges a higher power could be at work for Abdur-Rahkman.
"He prefers the pink shoes because that's just him," Simpson said. "Hopefully, it can bring us some good luck tomorrow."