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Before Kaepernick: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Sacrificed NBA Career To Protest Injustice

ThePostGame.com logo ThePostGame.com 7/11/2018 Jeff Fedotin

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While in Oakland for a speaking engagement with Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale during October 2016, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf met privately with Colin Kaepernick for about an hour. They shared their experiences, but Abdul-Rauf did not offer advice.

"That's the last thing, the last approach, I want to have," Abdul-Rauf said. "It was beautiful … a beautiful meeting."

a man standing in front of it: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf © Sean M. Haffey/BIG3/Getty Images Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Abdul-Rauf, the oldest active player in the Big3 basketball league at 49, is the original Kaepernick. In March 1996, the NBA suspended the Denver Nuggets guard, who averaged at least 18 points during three of his nine seasons, after he did not stand for the national anthem.

ThePostGame asked Abdul-Rauf if the situation with Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the final week of the 2016 regular season, reminds him of what happened with his NBA career.

"No question," Abdul-Rauf said. "His livelihood was destroyed as a result of taking a position."

After his one-game, $31,707 suspension, Abdul-Rauf reached a compromise with the NBA and stood for the anthem but bowed his head in prayer. But that didn't stop the Nuggets from trading their leading scorer to the Sacramento Kings at the end of the season.

His minutes decreased, and he lost his starting role. Once Abdul-Rauf's contract expired, the 29-year-old struggled to even land an NBA tryout. Making about half his yearly NBA salary, he played in Turkey. Abdul-Rauf saw limited minutes in one final NBA stint with the Vancouver Grizzlies during 2000-01 before playing in Russia, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Japan and then retiring in 2011.

But long before the NBA suspended him in 1996, Abdul-Rauf hadn't been standing for the national anthem. While still reading and processing information, he either stretched in the middle of the bench or just turned away from the flag as the anthem played during the 1994-95 season.

"But I knew I wasn't going to stand," he said, "or acknowledge the history of the flag and what was going on in the country."

a group of people that are talking to each other: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf © Brian Bahr/Getty Images Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

The story blew up when a local radio reporter noticed in 1996 and interviewed Abdul-Rauf about it, creating a national stir.

"The media scene tried to make it and frame it like it was: ‘He's a Muslim and he's just about what happened to Muslims,'" Abdul-Rauf said. "The flag represents all these beautiful things. Well, I don't see that when I look at the facts on the ground. It's not representing what you say it's representing. So as far as I'm concerned, I can't honor this symbol that doesn't represent those values."

Such beliefs have become a hot-button topic today -- in part due to Kaepernick, who Abdul-Rauf said seemed personable, sincere and comfortable with his decision to risk his career over social activism.

Kaepernick told Abdul-Rauf: "This is the most free I've ever felt."

a group of people around each other: Colin Kaepernick © Harry How/Getty Images Colin Kaepernick

Abdul-Rauf called his meeting with Kaepernick a one-time thing, and he hasn't communicated with him since. They didn't even exchange phone numbers. With so many people trying to reach out to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Abdul-Rauf doesn't want to bother him.

"I really think it's something that shouldn't even be in the sports," Abdul-Rauf said of the anthem. "And his position didn't even have anything to do with the flag itself. It had to do with basic equality. He used that to draw attention to the situation."[MOBILE-AD-ad_usat_mobile_300x250_2m]

For the 2018 season, the Big3 no longer plays the national anthem before games. When the Big3 did so last year, Abdul-Rauf bowed his head in prayer.

"I do the same thing I did before I left the NBA," he said. "I pray for those who are oppressed, who are suffering.

"I pray for justice."

***

Abdul-Rauf may be known for his ideological stance, but he is also a physical marvel. Any questions about his age were put to rest with his performance during the Big3 Combine before the inaugural Big3 season in 2017.

"He just blew people away," said BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz.

The starting guard on this year's undefeated 3 Headed Monsters team, Abdul-Rauf finished 10th in the Big3 in scoring (13.4 points per game) and was tied for second in both assists (22) and steals (six) last season.[MOBILE-AD-ad_usat_mobile_300x250_3m]

He also hit two game-winning shots during the regular season and had a game-high 22 points in the 2017 Big3 Championship Game.

a man holding a basketball: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf © Ronald Martinez/BIG3/Getty Image Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf "He's in better shape than most 35 or 30 year-olds," said 3 Headed Monsters head coach Gary Payton.

Payton is not only the exact same age as Abdul-Rauf, but also was drafted second overall in the 1990 NBA Draft, one pick before his current pupil.

While his NBA contemporaries are coaching, Abdul-Rauf's ability to still play is a testament to his maniacal commitment to exercise. He said those workouts are just as intense -- and some days more so -- than when he was in the NBA.

Abdul-Rauf, who trains basketball players professionally, works out every day. In fact, he goes through stretches of a couple months where he works out twice a day. Interval training is an emphasis, but he mixes up his routine, which includes weight lifting, calisthenics and martial arts.

"I'm big on trying to push myself, as much as possible, to the max. It's just a part of my DNA," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if this kills me."

That may sound overly grim or hyperbolic, but Abdul-Rauf exercises so intensely because he said it feels therapeutic for his Tourette's syndrome. He was diagnosed with that neurological disorder, which is characterized by repetitive tics and uncontrollable body movements, during high school.

"There's a moment when your breath begins to slow down, where sometimes you get into a zone and you're just looking into space," he said. "For people like me and for people with Tourette's syndrome, that moment of stillness is priceless. So a lot of times, I work out to just get to that moment of stillness -- even if it just lasts for 30 seconds."

His dedication to exercise is just part of his emphasis on health. He doesn't drink, smoke or go to clubs. His brother has practiced naturopathy for 30 years, and Abdul-Rauf uses his tonics. Abdul-Rauf eats a lot of vegetables, fruit and seafood and avoids fried and processed foods.

a group of people standing in a room: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf © Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for BIG3 Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

"I just try and watch what I put in my body," he said.

Abdul-Rauf, who was twice the NBA's most accurate free throw shooter (95.6 percent in 1993-94 and 93 percent in 1995-96), said he can't tell much of a difference between his shooting now and when he was an NBA player.

He has continued to display his accuracy and clutch shot-making ability this season. After taking one dribble inside the 3-point arc, he sank the game-winning bucket in a 50-48, Week 1 victory against the Ghost Ballers. In Week 3's 51-49 win, he scored his team's last 14 points, including the game-winning three-pointer.

"One of the best shooters in the entire world," said Hall of Famer and Big3 commissioner Clyde Drexler.

And he's perfect for the Big3. The league plays half-court, 3-on-3 games just once a week for 10 weeks, making it conducive to retired NBA stars, who would have trouble holding up for 82 games.

"He's the example of what our league is all about," said Big3 co-founder Ice Cube. "Oh man, he's my hero."

***

To further the Kaepernick-Abdul-Rauf connection, Mark Geragos, the lawyer representing Kaepernick in his collusion grievance case against the NFL, is a Big3 board member.

After playing the national anthem before contests last year, the Big3 is not doing so in 2018. But Kwatinetz said that's not because of Geragos' presence or as an attempt to make a political statement.

The Big3, which was shown on tape delay last year on Fox Sports 1, now has to squeeze three live games into every Friday night telecast -- following the first contest's broadcast via Facebook -- putting duration of games at a premium.

But the Big3 is one of the most progressive sports leagues. It has an African-American founder (Ice Cube), a female chairman of the board (Amy Trask), a female head coach (Nancy Lieberman) and has legalized cannabidiol this season.

a man holding a basketball: Chris Jackson, LSU © Getty Images Chris Jackson, LSU And while emphasizing the anthem decision was made due to time constraints, Kwatinetz made his opinion on the matter quite clear.

"Our event is a sporting event," Kwatinetz said. "It's become a ritual in certain leagues to perform the national anthem, but it has nothing to do with the sport itself. We don't see the link between the two."

Long before Abdul-Rauf was known for his stance against the national anthem, he was Chris Jackson. He starred at LSU, earning first-team All-American honors during both his years there and SEC Player of the Year as a freshman.

Abdul-Rauf lives in Atlanta, where his college teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, works much of the year as a NBA studio analyst for TNT.

"Shaq and I don't really talk," he said. "I watch him doing his thing and I'm happy for him. He's a big-time guy."

Their LSU head coach, Dale Brown, introduced Jackson to The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Shortly after the Nuggets drafted Jackson, he began studying the Quran. He then converted to Islam before changing his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1993.

"As a Muslim in terms of this whole concept of nationalism," he said, "we just don't get into that."

Abdul-Rauf is well-read, citing Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn as influences, and remains steadfast in his convictions.

"My position hasn't changed," he said. "Being a country that we say or claim or pride ourselves on being enlightened and civilized, we still have a long way to go with race relations. We have a long way to go with health care. We have a long way to go with education ... It's a lot that was going on in my head and still now today."

Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.

Related Stories:

-- One-On-One With Ice Cube About Season 2 Of Big3

-- Big3 Basketball: How 3-On-3 Can Be More Challenging Than 5-On-5

-- Terrell Davis Salutes Kaepernick's Sacrificing NFL Career For Greater Good

-- Everybody Still Loves Dr. J

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf © Sam Wasson/BIG3/Getty Images Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf
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