On Saturday, Tacko Fall will eat his first meal of the day before 4 a.m.
He won’t eat his next until after 8 p.m.
For the past month, the 7-foot-5-inch Celtics center has been observing Ramadan, a 30-day period of fasting and reflection for Muslims. During that span, Fall can eat and drink only before Fajr, the first of five daily prayers that takes place when the sun begins to rise, and after Maghrib, the prayer that takes place when the sun begins to set.
That means no food and no drinks — not even water — as long as the sun is out.
“It’s challenging,” said Fall. “A lot of times when you would tell people from here that you’re fasting, they’re like, ‘Oh, but you can drink water.’ No, you can’t drink water.”
In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to curb their negative thoughts and abstain from engaging in behaviors such as gossiping and complaining. In Fall’s case, he’s trying to cut back on his social media usage and limit his listening of music with explicit lyrics. He treats the time as a period of spiritual discipline and an opportunity to become closer to God.
“I feel like I have more self-control,” said Fall. “Ramadan, we believe, is the best month of the year. You just come out of it a better person than you came in.”
Fall’s first meal, known as suhur, typically consists of something light so he can reduce the amount of energy required for digestion. Some days, he will have a protein shake; other days, he’ll prepare a traditional Senegalese dish similar to rice pudding.
Another popular choice is dates, a nutritionally rich staple of the Middle East that holds additional value for its historical significance. Considered to be a symbol of wealth and abundance, the date palm is mentioned in the Quran more than 20 times, the most among fruit-bearing plants.
After suhur and Fajr, Fall will go to bed and sleep at the very latest until dhuhr, the 20-minute midday prayer that takes place once the sun reaches its peak. He does his best to go about the rest of his day without eating or drinking.
There have been a few instances when Fall has broken his fast, he admitted. After the NBA suspended its season in March because of the pandemic, the Celtics have been conducting virtual workouts, with their coaching staff as well as strength and conditioning coach Ty Yeaton participating. The recent sessions have picked up intensity, so much so that Fall can’t help but down some water.
Still, he’s pleased with his overall progress. Having grown up in Senegal, he remembers how people would shout in the streets when it was time for suhur. Nearly everyone was on the same routine, Fall recalls.
Once he moved to the US at 16 years old, the onus shifted solely to him.
“This is the first year, ever, that I’ve consistently fasted, like the way that I’ve done,” Fall said. “I don’t like to boast, but I’m really proud of myself. I’m not perfect, but I can say that this year, I’ve really tried to step it up.”
For the meal to break his fast, iftar, Fall has cooked once and, fittingly, made beef tacos. More often than not, he’ll eat premade meals that are dropped off weekly by a friend of the team chef Nick Arcuri, or he’ll order takeout from Ruth’s Chris Steak House or The Maharaja, an Indian restaurant in Cambridge.
“Because I didn’t eat all day, a lot of the time, the food just knocks me out,” Fall laughed.
Typically, iftar is shared as a community, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced Fall and other Muslims to make adjustments. While Fall usually eats solo, he’s certainly not alone on the Celtics. Teammates Enes Kanter and Jaylen Brown are observing Ramadan, too.
About halfway through Ramadan, Fall was able to visit Brown’s apartment for iftar one evening. The pair, along with Brown’s brother and a few other family members, enjoyed a meal together and finished the night by playing cards.
“His chef made some chicken — the chicken was dope — some rice, and some Asian food,” Fall said. “And cookies for dessert.”
Celtics director of player development Allison Feaster and assistant coach Jay Larranaga also decided to give Ramadan a try this year. Their efforts fell short — Feaster lasted three days, while Larranaga lasted a weekend — but were nonetheless appreciated.
“I was not accustomed to getting up that early in the morning, not accustomed to eating enough to get me through the day, and certainly not accustomed to functioning after not having food in my body for that long,” said Feaster.
“That’s the beauty of these connections. For me, that’s what it’s all about, getting to know them more than a surface level. I really wanted to understand an important part of their culture.”
“Everyone talks about being hangry,” added Larranaga. “That definitely happened with me.”
While he wasn’t able to commit to the full 30-day stretch, Larranaga will still fast on certain days to remind himself of what Fall is experiencing.
“I think every person feels a need to kind of be understood and empathize with their situation, whether that’s physical, psychological, or emotional,” Larranaga said. “I think that’s just part of being a team and having a good working relationship with people, is being able to put yourself in their shoes.”
During the season, Kanter said, he’ll send Fall a text before morning prayer in solidarity. They will also study the Quran, something Brown has taken up as well, and have started exchanging verses.
The support and sense of community, especially in his rookie season as a two-way player, means a lot to Fall.
“It’s a special feeling,” he said.