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The Steph Curry Of The 90s: The Story of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf And How The NBA Blackballed Him

The Steph Curry of the 90s: The Story of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf And How The NBA Blackballed Him

Steph Curry has changed the NBA for sure. But what if I told you, there was a player who played almost exactly like Curry, in the 1990s?

The first player who may come to your mind is Steph Curry's father, Dell Curry, who played most of his career with the Charlotte Hornets.

Dell was a sharpshooter, but he didn't play like his son. A few other players who were sharpshooters in the 90s include Reggie Miller, Dale Ellis, and even Ray Allen, but none of these players played like Steph Curry.

The name of the player who resembled Curry before Curry was none other than Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. Now, you might have never heard of Abdul-Rauf, and if that is the case, it probably was done on purpose…

We'll get back to that in a moment. First, let's talk about who Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is. On March 9, 1969, Abdul-Rauf was born to the name of Chris Wayne Jackson.

Abdul-Rauf grew up in Gulfport, the second-largest city in Mississippi. He was raised in a single-parent family, along with his two brothers.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's childhood was rough. Not only did he grow up in extreme poverty, but Abdul-Rauf also missed the fourth grade due to a moderate form of Tourette syndrome, which went undiagnosed until he was 17.

Even dealing with these physical and mental problems, Abdul-Rauf managed to become a star basketball player at his high school (Gulfport High School).

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf averaged 29.9 points and 5.7 assists per game during his senior year. His outstanding senior year earned him a spot in the McDonald's All-American Game.

Abdul-Rauf was twice named Mississippi Mr. Basketball, in 1987 and 1988. This is incredible to know when you discover that by the time Abdul-Rauf was in middle school, he never played a game of organized basketball in his life.

While out shooting during his lunch period, the middle-school girls' basketball coach witnessed Abdul-Rauf's natural talent, and she urged Abdul-Rauf's mother to let him play organized basketball.

Despite not knowing the rules of basketball, in his first game, Abdul-Rauf scored 24 points.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf went to Louisiana State University to play for the LSU Tigers. In just his third game, Abdul-Rauf scored 48 points against Louisiana Tech.

Later that year, Abdul-Rauf would score 53 points against Florida, a freshman scoring record. That's an impressive scoring feat, especially for a freshman, but Abdul-Rauf wasn't done yet.

On March 4, 1989, in a game against Ole Miss, Abdul-Rauf broke his freshman record by scoring 55 points. He also set a career-high for three-pointers made, with 10.

What made this game more unique was that Ole Miss' Gerald Glass scored 53 points. Their 108 combined points were the most ever by two players in an SEC game.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf certainly had an incredible freshman year. His 30.2 points per game and his 965 total points were both NCAA records for a freshman at the time.

This led to Abdul-Rauf being named SEC Player of the Year and First-team All-American.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf finished his college career, only playing one more year, averaging 27.8 per game. He was named SEC Player of the Year and First-team All-American for the second year in a row.

After his two years at LSU, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf declared for the 1990 NBA Draft. He was selected third in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf would be ready for the NBA, his incredible play carried over to the pro level. In only 22.5 minutes per game, Abdul-Rauf averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

Over the next five seasons, Abdul-Rauf put up scoring averages of 10.3, 19.2, 18.0, 16.0, and 19.2. On December 8, 1995, Abdul-Rauf scored a career-high 51 points against the Utah Jazz.

There was more to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's game, more than just the high scoring points, it was the way he played the game.

At that time, the best shooters in the game usually popped off screens to catch and shoot the ball from three, or they'd stand and wait to receive a pass and then shoot the long ball.

Then you had Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. He could dribble the ball like Allen Iverson, create his own shot and shoot the long ball like Reggie Miller. This wasn't seen much in the NBA by this point.

Abdul-Rauf's most memorable game came against Michael Jordan and the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in 1996.

Before we get into this game, I want to point out this isn't the first time Abdul-Rauf dueled Michael Jordan, and I'm not speaking about an earlier NBA matchup.

Sometime in the late 1980s, while Abdul-Rauf was still in high school, he attended a basketball event hosted by Michael Jordan.

At one point in the event, Jordan selected Abdul-Rauf from the crowd and challenged him to a game of one on one.

According to Abdul-Rauf, on his first possession, he faked right, went left, and flipped in a layup with Jordan, as he says, “breathing down my neck.”

Then, on his second possession, he hit Jordan with a cross-over, and he scored again with another layup. This promoted Jordan to take the ball and tell him to sit down.

Now, there is no video evidence of Abdul-Rauf scoring twice as a high schooler on the G.O.A.T., but as mentioned earlier, his most notable game came against Jordan and the 72 win Chicago Bulls.

On February 4, 1996, The Chicago Bulls rolled into Denver on an 18 game winning streak and a record of 41-3. The Nuggets record at this point were a lousy 18-26.

But that didn't matter to Abdul-Rauf and the Denver Nuggets as they jumped all over the Bulls, taking a 68-43 halftime lead.

Abdul-Rauf scored 23 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists in the first half of the game.

The fans in Denver were expecting an easy win, but they forgot Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls.

The G.O.A.T. dropped 22 of his game-high 39 in the third quarter as the Bulls battled back into the game.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf only scored 9 in the second half, but he hit a dagger jump shot with 52.6 seconds left in the game. His jumper gave the Nuggets a 4 point lead, and they'd hang on to win 105-99.

On top of this, impressive win against the Bulls, Abdul-Rauf showed how good he was as a shooter.

He led the NBA in Free throw percentage twice, including in the 1993-1994 season, where he missed the then free throw percentage record by a single miss free throw. He shot an impressive 95.6 from the line.

You'd think Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf would be a household name for years to come in the NBA, but that wouldn't happen. The big question is why? He had the talent, why would his star fade so quickly?

The quick answer is that Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf isn't the Steph Curry of the 1990s, he's the Colin Kaepernick of the 90s.

In 1996, Abdul-Rauf, who was a proud Muslim, stated he would no longer stand for the national anthem because “he felt the flag stood for tyranny and oppression and it was his decision to no longer stand for something he didn’t believe in.

After making his statement about the national anthem, Abdul-Rauf received death threats and hate mail. The NBA also suspended him for a game.

Two days after his missed game, Abdul-Rauf made a deal with the league, so he could continue to play. He would stand during the playing of the national anthem, but he'd close his eyes and look downward.

Abdul-Rauf admitted to silently reciting Islamic prayer during the playing of the anthem. He did it for those who are suffering from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds.

After the 1995–1996 season ended, the Nuggets traded him, even though he averaged a team-high 19.2 points and 6.8 assists.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf would play two more seasons with the Sacramento Kings, but his playing time decreased.

After the 1998 season, when his contract expired, no NBA team would even grant Abdul-Rauf a tryout for two years.

In 2001, the Vancouver Grizzlies gave him another shot in the NBA, but he only played 11.9 minutes per game. After 2001, no NBA team would give him a spot on their roster.

So, the sharpshooter was out of the NBA, but unfortunately, he wasn't away from scrutiny and harassment from people who were against him on his stance on the national anthem.

In 2001, his house was burnt down after racist graffiti had been frequently sprayed on it.

Even with this type of hate thrown his way, Abdul-Rauf remained unfazed. He wanted justice for people of color and people of suppressed groups.

While Abdul-Rauf was still playing in the NBA, during his team's road trips, Abdul-Rauf would visit the inner cities and talk to the people, trying to help them through their issues.

Eddie Maisonet, a journalist for SBNation, had this to say about Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf:

“Abdul-Rauf made sure to tour the inner cities of every stop on each Denver Nuggets road trip, going from hood to hood to speak to men who had issues with fatherhood, incarceration, and drugs. Abdul-Rauf was motivated by his growing appreciation of Malcolm X, one that began when college coach Dale Brown gave him the book. He saw his public speaking work as his pilgrimage to Mecca. NBA Cares would’ve loved this.”

Yes, in today's NBA, Abdul-Rauf would be a hero, but instead, during his time, he was blackballed.

But Abdul-Rauf doesn't regret his choices. He had this to say about them:

“Whether I go broke, whether they take my life, whatever it is, I stood on principles. To me, that is worth more than wealth and fame.”

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is a huge supporter of Colin Kaepernick and with Kaepernick's protest and the NBA as a family pushing injustices to the front line, maybe Abdul-Rauf's dream of equality for those communities he stood for will finally get it. 


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