As BIG 3 basketball makes its way around the states this summer season with former named NBA players on their rosters and coaching teams, one player who deserves an incredible amount of attention, his quotes circulated from interviews and press conferences with much fan-fare, pretty much just plays the game and remains low key.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, number 7, co-captain of the 3 Headed Monsters, is not just a former NBA player. Abdul-Rauf, when he played for the Denver Nuggets in 1996, refused to stand for the playing of “The Star Bangled Banner” 20 years before Colin Kaepernick first did it in September of 2016.
To Abdul-Rauf, the flag represented a symbol of oppression and the United States’ long history of tyranny.
He paid a $31,000 fine to the NBA for each game that he missed while being suspended and agreed to stand, but bowed his head and prayed while the anthem was played.
When Abdul-Rauf, who became an Orthodox Muslim during his second year in the NBA, took this stance, no other players from his team joined him. No other players or teams from the league joined in. No other players from other sports supported him.
There were no “I Stand With Abdul-Rauf” t-shirts. There were no controlled protests dictating the narrative. There were no Nike campaigns. No sneakers with a Betsy Ross flag to be re-called. There were no Emmy nominated commercials or promotions of any kind. There were no dividends to be leveraged.
“It’s nice to see guys, players taking a position now, but at the same time, I’m always leary of when things become popular, fashionable,” noted Abdul-Rauf, a voracious reader who became interested in Islam after reading the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
“A real protest is not about getting permission. I’m not saying that there’s no value to it, but I’m just wary of it when it becomes fashionable.”
Abdul-Rauf, now 50, was drafted in 1990 by the Nuggets, the third pick in the first round after playing two years with Louisiana State University, a division institution.
Abdul-Rauf led the NBA in free throw percentage in the 1993-94 and the 1995-96 seasons. His free throw percentage in 1993-1994 (.956) is the third highest seasonal percentage in NBA history.
His 1995-1996 season with the Nuggets was his last. Abdul-Rauf was traded to the Sacramento Kings. It’s not naive to think it was because of his refusal to stand for the anthem while in Denver.
“When I took my position, it wasn’t just about racial inequality and police brutality,” Abdul-Rauf stated. Very conscious of how he’s perceived, he continues.
“It’s about oppression, wherever it is, period. Whether it’s overseas or orchestrated and facilitated here by the United States. Whether it’s directed at Blacks, whites or Asians. It’s about oppression in general.”