Abdul-Rauf Discusses Basketball Career, Faith

Griffin Garcia, Staff Writer

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Former first-round pick and 10-year NBA veteran Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was known for his skill on the court before, but a conversion to Islam changed the whole scope of his career.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was born as a Baptist Christian by the name of Chris Jackson and was raised in Mississippi by a mother with no more than a middle school education while his father was not around. Abdul-Rauf described the area he lived in as a “ghetto” and was pushed by his mother to get the thing she was not given the opportunity to, a high school diploma.

“For me, basketball was my only way out,” Abdul-Rauf said as he discussed the possible futures he saw for himself when he was younger.

By his junior year in high school, Abdul-Rauf was exceeding far more than his mother could have dreamed. He became a five-star point guard recruit with a full-scholarship offer by almost every school in the country.

When the time came, Abdul-Rauf chose to attend Louisiana State University, where he set the record for most points scored in a season by a freshman, a record that holds to this day.

Abdul-Rauf spent two years at LSU before declaring for the NBA draft, where he was selected third overall by the Denver Nuggets.

After having struggles in his first two years in the league, Abdul-Rauf wanted to find himself spiritually. Despite being born and raised a Baptist, he felt that every time he had asked a pastor for advice, he was always given one of two answers.

“Believe what is happening or don’t question God,” he said.

While in Denver, Abdul-Rauf was introduced to the Quran, the religious book of Islam. It took him no more than three pages before he felt that Islam was right for him.

Once converted, Abdul-Rauf took religion very seriously. Part of the Islam religion is Ramadan, 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset. When Ramadan came, Abdul-Rauf participated despite many of his peers attempting to convince him otherwise because it took place in-season.

“When we were winning, everything was fine. But when we were losing, it was about my faith,” Abdul-Rauf stated while discussing how the media treated him when he fasted during the NBA season for Ramadan.

Abdul-Rauf decided to make an attempt at a comeback to the NBA after leaving it to play professionally in Turkey for the 1998-1999 season and briefly retiring from basketball as a whole for the duration of the next season.

During the comeback process, Abdul-Rauf’s agent was contacted by Bryan Colangelo, General Manager of the Phoenix Suns at the time, regarding his client’s potential return.

“[The Suns] are not interested in Mahmoud and it is not because of his basketball skills,” Colangelo told Abdul-Rauf’s agent.

The Suns were not the only team to openly let Abdul-Rauf know that his skills on the court were not keeping him off of NBA rosters during that offseason. Elgin Baylor, former GM of the Los Angeles Clippers had called Abdul-Rauf and invited him to go to Los Angeles for a meeting about a possible contract.

When Abdul-Rauf arrived at the Clippers’ facilities for the meeting, he was brought to a basketball court by an assistant and was told Baylor would be leaving his current meeting. Through a window that led to an office, Abdul-Rauf watched Baylor send one of his assistants back to the court to tell him that the Clippers were not interested in him because of comments he made on HBO before the meeting.

The only comment of the HBO interview from Abdul-Rauf was that it was regarding religion.

Abdul-Rauf closed out the night by talking about why he stayed strong to his religion despite potentially losing millions of dollars in contracts and endorsements.

“What do [I] want to be remembered for? That [I] have a mean crossover or quick release?” Abdul-Rauf hypothetically asked the room, clarifying that the legacy he wants to leave behind is far beyond the basketball court.