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Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was more than 'Steph Curry before Steph Curry'

The most important moment of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's career in the NBA came to the bank. On a otherwise mundane March night, when his Denver Nuggets collapsed towards the end of a season in which they would miss the playoffs, Abdul-Rauf, a devout Muslim, remained silent as the rest of his teammates , and everyone else in the arena – represented the game of "The Star-Spangled Banner".

For two decades, that moment has defined the legacy of the old shooter. But as the twentieth anniversary of Abdul-Rauf's refusal to defend the anthem approached this year, it was another player, one who could knock down more than three points than Abdul-Rauf, who put his name in the headlines. . Not because of the protest, but because of all the qualities of his game that the incident has sometimes eclipsed.

This season of Stephen Curry has left the world of basketball looking for comparisons. And three weeks ago, when Curry turned on the Oklahoma City Thunder and beat his own three-point record in a season with 23 games left to play, Phil Jackson finally thought he had found one.

So the president of the New York Knicks, who won 13 titles as a player and head coach in the NBA, approached Twitter to remind the world of a past name.

The response from social networks bordered on outrage. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was known as Chris Jackson before converting to Islam in 1991 and changed his name two years later, was a three-point shooter in his career of 35 percent, just in Curry's kingdom. But for others, like Dale Brown, who trained Abdul-Rauf at Louisiana State University nearly 30 years ago, it made a lot of sense.

"I said it a year or two ago!" Brown told The Huffington Post recently. "Chris Jackson was Steph Curry before Steph Curry was Steph Curry."

Once, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was one of the deadliest marksmen in the history of college basketball, twice All-American at LSU and then a lottery selection that, in nine seasons in the NBA, showed that same skill against some of the most important names in the sport.

In making the comparison with Curry, Jackson only intended to remind the world of Abdul-Rauf's brilliance on the court. But given its proximity to the anniversary of Abdul-Rauf's protest, the tweet also raises questions: whatever has happened to it, and has its meaning as a player and, as something else, has it been forgotten?

At LSU, Abdul-Rauf, then known as Chris Jackson, was one of the most dynamic scorers in the history of college basketball. His average of 30.2 points per game in 1988-89 remains the NCAA record for a freshman.

Brown lured Jackson to LSU in 1988 from Gulfport, Mississippi, where the guard had already become a deadly scorer with a silky-soft jump shot that left his opponents from school in amazement. Jackson had grown up poor in Gulfport. He never met his father and suffered from Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that caused tics, but Brown said he also generated the obscene approach that created his magical shot.

Jackson was a shy, quiet and humble child, even when he came to LSU as one of the best recruits in high school in the country. In his first game in an LSU uniform, Jackson started and helped the Tigers beat Marist, and told reporters that he was delighted to be there and happy with the amount of looks Brown's offense gave him. official statistics are hard to come by, but Brown remembered that Jackson scored 13 points.)

But when they left the Maravich Assembly Center, the local LSU stadium, Brown pushed Jackson aside and told the freshman to never act like that again in front of the press. Jackson was terrified of disappointing his new coach.

"Son, let me tell you something," Brown told him. "You have unlimited shooting abilities, do not look at the bank, you throw when you want, I'll tell you if it's a bad shot, and you do not have to worry about that, you're such a deadly shooter, go ahead and do it."

He never had to remind Jackson again. Two weeks later, Jackson scored 48 points against Louisiana Tech in his third college game. On his first road trip in conference games, on December 10, 1988, he hung 53 in Florida.

Jackson scored 965 points that year, his average of 30.2 points per game remains a record for a college freshman.

Throughout his two seasons at Baton Rouge, Jackson's dedication to the game became the stuff of tradition. There were gym sessions, Brown recalled, where Jackson refused to leave until he scored 300 consecutive free throws.

Jackson went to the NBA after his second season, and the Denver Nuggets exchanged two selections to take him to the third overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft.

As a matter of time, the NCAA did not adopt the three-point line until the season prior to their arrival at LSU. Jackson's approach to shooting made him a revolutionary college basketball player.

Jackson scored 48 points in his third NBA game, but he never became the force in the game. that Curry was converted later. Jackson never scored more than 39 percent of his triples in a single season. Curry, on the other hand, has a 44 percent run from a distance, and has never won less than 42 percent in a season.

But the same stylistic traits that define Curry's game: fast pitch, the ability to make their way to open space, the simple way in which he scores even when it was not open, and the feeling that no clue is safe if he is on the court; they were also present in Abdul-Rauf's, even in an era in which the three points and the first shipowner were not as famous as they are now.

"Beyond him and Steph shooting, they are very similar," Brown said. "He can free himself at any time he wants, and then, if the lane is blocked, he has the great ability to shoot the little float, like Steph, they are almost contortionist with basketball, there are so many similarities. that a speeding bullet. "

Bryant Stith, who played with Abdul-Rauf in Denver and knows him since they were teammates in a Nike draft camp as high school seniors, wonders how Abdul-Rauf could have been in the NBA's today, he started to calculate the true value of the three points and allows the guards as Curry both space to improvise and dictate crimes with their ability to score.

"If Mahmoud had the freedom to shoot and score in such an open offense," Stith reflected, "I do not know if he would be able to put the same kind of numbers Steph Curry is holding now, but he would probably be the closest person he could make. those things … The numbers I would have put in would have been incredible. "

Once in a while, I had that opportunity. On December 8, 1995, Abdul-Rauf entered Salt Lake City and set fire to the Utah Jazz.

The performance, which Abdul-Rauf finished with 51 points, presented moments in which the fans could see the same kind of frantic, frenetic style, that it can not be possible that Curry has perfected. To suggest that Abdul-Rauf helped create the mold that Curry is destroying is not absurd.

But three months after that Jazz game, Abdul-Rauf's career broke down.

After the fiasco of the national anthem, no one really wanted to touch me. "

The night of March 10, 1996, began like almost every other one that season. -Rauf went through warm-ups, went back to the dressing room to get dressed for the game and went out with his teammates for the normal rituals prior to the game, however, when the first chord of "The Star Spangled Banner" hit, and the rest of his teammates team stood in front of the Nuggets bench, Abdul-Rauf sat down.

In truth, he had not participated in the typical hymn ritual for most of that season. Sometimes he stretched, other nights he stayed in the locker room and only joined his team on the court once he had finished, but that night, a local reporter noticed him sitting there and wrote a short story for the newspaper the next day.

The next morning, Abdul-Rauf's silent gesture was national news, and his mailbox was flooded with death threats.

The protest said in his At the time, it was meant to draw attention to the fact that the American flag was "a symbol of tyranny, of oppression." He was out of line with his Islamic faith, he said, to honor him.

"This country has a long history of that," he said. "I do not think you can discuss the facts, you can not be for God and for oppression, it's clear in the Quran, Islam is the only way, I do not criticize those who are standing, so do not criticize me." to sit down. I will not doubt my decision. "

" I'm also a man trying to perfect my life on and off the court, and someone who tries to be honest in my dealings with my fellows, and sincere in any activity that undertake "Abdul-Rauf said in the days after the outbreak of the controversy." Therefore, I understand that 100 percent honesty and sincerity is the requirement to participate in the national anthem. As such, I decided not to disrespect anyone and remain in the locker room or lobbies while playing the anthem. "

Two days after that game, on March 12, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Abdul-Rauf for an indefinite period and stayed out of a game, losing a $ 31,700 game check before reaching an agreement with the league: he had to stop, but he could bowing his head and closing his eyes to pray if he wanted to.

Abdul-Rauf still showed flashes of brilliance in the final months of the season, he lit Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls by 32 points in May, but his career would never be the same.

The Nuggets moved Abdul-Rauf to Sacramento immediately after the season ended, it looked like a move to get rid of " controversial guard ", as described by Los Angeles Times in a story about the exchange, given that the Nuggets only received a second-round pick and the Kings Salunas Marciulionis guard (who played only 17 games in Denver before retiring after the 1997 season) for a player who averaged almost 20 points per game the previous season.

Two seasons later, Abdul-Rauf was out of the NBA. His last year in Sacramento was disastrous: he shot only 16 percent from behind the goal. After a year in the Turkish league, he had one last chance with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2000. He averaged 6.5 points and threw 28 percent of three in 41 games, and once the season ended, so did his career in the NBA.

In subsequent interviews, Abdul-Rauf complained that he had "taken away his best years" after the scandal.

"After the fiasco of the national anthem, nobody really wanted to touch me," he told HoopsHype in 2010.

After serving a game suspension for refusing to stand during the national anthem in 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf prayed silently for the rest of the season while playing.

For Brown, it was a surprise that Abdul-Rauf became the focal point of one of the biggest controversies outside the court of his time. After all, his star setter had always been a straight arrow. Once, he recalled, both he and Abdul-Rauf delivered Christmas turkeys to families in Baton Rouge. Abdul-Rauf asked him to turn off the music in the car when they passed by a church, saying he felt it was disrespectful to God.

When Abdul-Rauf converted to Islam, he did not hide it from his teammates. He fasted during Ramadan every season, and his teammates knew his position on the anthem long before it became public.

"We knew that Mahmoud was very devout in his beliefs," said Stith, now an assistant coach at Old Dominion University. "We knew that he took them seriously and we respected him"

Other players felt similarly, and the NBA Players Association supported him in the fight against the suspension of the league .

"He's a good boy," Michael Jordan said at the time. "He has his beliefs, and may not agree with them, but I give him all the credit for trying to fulfill them."

But the fans, the NBA and maybe even those responsible for their franchise felt uncomfortable with the gesture.

Sports in the 1990s were relatively free of political protests, and geopolitical events meant that Abdul-Rauf's stance against the flag was conducive to outrage. Just three years earlier, Islamic terrorists had bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, and memories of that, and of a war in the Persian Gulf, were still fresh in the nation's mind.

The controversy even began to take its toll on his teammates. When Abdul-Rauf returned to the floor against Chicago after his suspension, the fans played the national anthem with passion and a volume that Stith had never heard before a game. Secret Service officers often accompanied Nuggets players to the opposite stadiums to guide them beyond the standby protesters.

"The pressure on Mahmoud increased, the pressure on the Nuggets increased," Stith said. "I do not think the Nuggets organization wanted to deal with that negativity at that moment."

After he finished his NBA career, Abdul-Rauf returned briefly to Gulfport, his hometown, where he planned to build a Muslim center. But he was burned down in 2001 in what he considered a hate crime (the authorities did not pursue him as such). He traveled the world playing in foreign leagues during the following years, making stops in Europe and Japan. For 2007, he lived on the outskirts of Atlanta, raising five children with his wife, and still received hate mail that night in March 1996, according to a story about him in Denver's 5280.

Brown did not see Abdul-Rauf recently, and said his former player has maintained his commitment to charity work in underserved communities, just as he was when he and Brown used to hand out turkeys during the holidays. Stith has not spoken to him since the Nuggets moved him to Sacramento.

But Abdul-Rauf rarely talks to the media now, and even as the anniversary of the protest approaches, at a time when the country is discussing and discussing many of the issues raised, little is known about what is doing now.

 Abdul-Rauf led the Denver Nuggets in scoring for four consecutive seasons from 1992 to 1996. & nbsp;

Abdul-Rauf led the Denver Nuggets in scoring for four consecutive seasons from 1992 to 1996.

For months, I have tried to locate Abdul-Rauf to talk about that moment when he refused to appear before the national anthem, and the days and years that followed, as the Twentieth Anniversary.

Even before Phil Jackson's tweets, he wanted to ask about Curry and if he saw himself as the biggest star in the NBA. Could it have been that player, or something like that, in this era, in a league that was learning the true value of the shot in which it stood out?

What if it was before his was as a guard, could he have been an early generation as an athlete willing to take a position too?

But more than that, he was curious about his opinion on how it could have been accepted today , at a time when prominent NBA players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul have used demonstrations and social networks on the court to protest the murders of black youth by the police, and idea that athletes, and in particular those of color, take positions against problems that they consider injustices, is less strange than when Abdul-Rauf sat down.

I wondered if Abdul-Rauf thought that the sports world, and the media environment around him, had changed in a way that could bring more compassion and nuance to the point he was trying to point out, and if the NBA could deal with his gesture of different way today.

Or, would you tell me we had not changed at all? America, after all, is a country that in 2016 is still waging wars on several fronts in two Muslim countries. It is a nation in the midst of a presidential campaign in which a grandiose billionaire has called the Muslims enemies of the United States, openly suggested that we forbid Muslim immigrants to enter the country and promised to attack the families and children of suspected Islamic terrorists in abroad. Are the messages sent by your protest more important than 20 years ago?

But Abdul-Rauf did not respond when I contacted me through Facebook or an email account that appears on a little used Twitter page. His agent received a request from Abdul-Rauf by telephone and then again by email, but he stopped responding. Brown asked him to call him, but he did not.

David Stern, who resigned as commissioner in 2014, was not available to comment on this story, according to the NBA. Apart from Stith, several of his former Nuggets teammates refused or did not respond to requests for comment.

The Facebook page of Abdul-Rauf tells the story of a man still deeply committed to the problems raised by his moment of protest. He regularly shares memes about Islam and a variety of political issues. A recent publication shows a picture of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize, with one of her most famous quotes written on a blackboard behind her: "With firearms, you can kill the terrorists", He says. "With education, you can kill terrorism."

Another denies his feelings about Donald Trump and his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He quotes a recent Stephen King tweet that said: "The conservatives who for eight years planted the dragon teeth of partisan politics are horrified to discover that they have grown up like a real dragon."

Brown, who still speaks with him regularly, said that Abdul-Rauf is still the same as he was all those years.

"He's the kind of person who is so humble, so kind, so spiritual, there's an aura around him," Brown said. "He's just a beautiful human being"

"And," he added, "I could play at this time."

Brown was not surprised that Abdul-Rauf did not want to talk about Steph's comparisons or the protest, even when trying to connect us. The incident in Denver, Brown said, has always been misunderstood, our attention focused on the act itself instead of the meaning behind it.

"What he was trying to do, he was just trying to say: 'We need the United States to unite and eliminate poverty and prejudice, and to love each other,'" Brown said. "That's what he was trying to do, it was not anti-USA or anything."

"I'm 80 years old," said the former LSU coach. to be more like Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. "

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