Looking through old NBA game tapes a few days ago, I came across a classic Rockets-Grizzlies late-season affair from the 2000-2001 season. I say classic because of two things: One, it was the last game played in Vancouver before the Grizzlies departed to Memphis. Two, it was the final game of an illustrious career for one of the greatest shooters/scorers to ever put on a pair of sneakers, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
Abdul-Rauf, the former Chris Jackson before he changed to Islam, played nine years in The Association, averaging 14.6 points on 44 percent shooting. He owns a career 90 percent free-throw percentage, and once scored 51 points in a game, against Utah in 1995. Scoring in bunches was nothing new for the guard, who averaged 29 points on 47 percent shooting in two years at LSU, and was named first team All-American as a freshman.
But he is most known for the following event. It was a situation that essentially got him frowned upon by the league.
Abdul-Rauf is perhaps best known for the controversy created when he refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games, stating that the flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. He said that standing to the national anthem would therefore conflict with his Islamic beliefs. On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, but the suspension lasted only one game. Two days later, the league was able to work out a compromise with him, whereby he would stand during the playing of the national anthem but could close his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited a Muslim prayer during this time.
In an apparent publicity stunt gone wrong linked to this controversy, four employees of Denver’s KBPI radio station were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to entering a Colorado mosque and playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a bugle and trumpet, in a provocative response to Abdul-Rauf’s refusal to stand for the national anthem.
The 6-foot Abdul-Rauf, a mercurial figure to say the least, also overcame Tourette syndrome during his career and was a godsend for basketball purists. He lived on a deadly midrange jump shot. Not much of a 3-point shooter or driver to the rim, he boasted one of the most beautiful releases ever, as quick as a blink, and was a master at using screens to get himself open. This was never more apparent, fittingly enough, in his career finale against the Rockets in the Grizzlies’ 100-95 loss, when he scored 25 points (on 12 of 19 shooting) in 23 minutes, exclusively in the second and fourth quarters.
His performance in the game is a thing of beauty. In a contest that featured a myriad of quick, athletic talents, such as Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, it was Abdul-Rauf, who averaged 19.7 points per 36 minutes played, who stole the show, keeping the Grizzlies afloat early and late. It would be the last game of a terrific career; a career that too often goes unnoticed for reasons that may be obvious.
Still, when it comes to the great shooters and scorers to ever step on a NBA floor, Mahmoud’s name should be up there with some of the greats.