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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf spoke on peaceful protests in the NBA

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf discussed not standing for the national anthem.

Several organizations hosted former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Feb. 27 in the Alumni Memorial Union Ballrooms at 6 p.m.

The Muslim Students Association, the Black Justice Council, The African Students Association, Marquette University Student Government, Marquette Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Amnesty International and Campus Ministry came together to host the event.

Abdul-Rauf protested the national anthem before his NBA games. His protests in the NBA were very similar to that of Colin Kaepernick. Abdul-Rauf discussed the national anthem protests with students and went through his story to where he is today.

Abdul-Rauf said he came from a poor neighborhood in Mississippi. He was highly recruited out of high school.  He went to college for two years at Louisiana State University from 1988-’90. In those years, he played in 64 games and averaged 30.2 points per game his first year, and 27.8 in the next. He played alongside future all-star Shaquille O’Neal in his sophomore year and managed to claim the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year both years. He was drafted to the NBA in 1991 to the Denver Nuggets with the third pick of the first round.

In the NBA, Abdul-Rauf played for six years for the Denver Nuggets, two for the Sacramento Kings and one more for the Vancouver Grizzlies. NBA coach Phil Smith and College Coach Dale Brown described Abdul-Rauf’s talent as similar to the skills Stephen Curry has in today’s game. Abdul-Rauf was an incredible shooter and averaged 90.5 percent from the free-throw line in his NBA career.

In his first year in the league, Abdul-Rauf changed. He realized that he was not where he wanted to be as a person. He grew up in a Christian background, but he said his faith could not answer the questions he had. He consumed books and read everything he could.

“I could not stop reading,” Abdul-Rauf said. “One day, my friend came up to me and say hey, let’s try reading the Quran. I read one page, then another, then two more. I looked up to my friend and said I’m going to become a Muslim.”

In 1991, Abdul-Rauf converted to Islam. In 1993, he changed his birth name, Chris Jackson, to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Abdul-Rauf chose to sit for the national anthem March 12, 1996. In the games leading to that day, he had resorted to staying in the locker room, stretching or doing other things instead of standing. Finally, he said he decided it was time for his fans and the NBA to know what he was about.

“They said it stood for one thing but to me, it meant something else,” he said.

He sat down during the national anthem and his career changed paths, he said.

Abdul-Rauf said his protests came from his reading into history and his views on what the flag and the national anthem represented. The flag for Abdul-Rauf was not about what it claimed to be, he said.

He was fined around $32,000 for sitting during the national anthem but he said his stock as a player dropped in the eyes of the NBA owners. Despite leading the team in points per game for four straight years, including 19.2 points per game in the 1995-96 season, the Denver Nuggets traded Abdul-Rauf to the Sacramento Kings. The trade took place three months after the game Abdul-Rauf decided to take a stand.

After that season, things got considerably worse for Abdul-Rauf, he said. His minutes got cut in the next two years, dropping from 35.6 minutes per game in the 1995-’96 season to 27.4 minutes per game in the 1996-97 season, and to 17.1 minutes per game in the 1997-98 season. He started fewer games and only played in 31 games in the 1997-98 season, despite being in the prime of his career.

“My minutes dropped, I was traded. They said ‘We don’t know if you still got it,'” Abdul-Rauf said,” It was the same language I heard with Kaepernick.”

Abdul-Rauf talked about the similarities that he saw between his protests and those of quarterback Colin Kaepernick who protested by kneeling for the anthem in the NFL. Their protests might have been years apart but Abdul-Rauf couldn’t see any improvements from his time to Kaepernick’s. “Nothing has changed from my time to Kaepernick’s. I can see that there is good but I really can’t call it great,” Abdul-Rauf said. Abdul-Rauf was in the dark and the choice to protest the National Anthem lined up with the trade just three months later. 

After two seasons with Sacramento, he left the NBA for two seasons to play overseas. He played overseas for one season and didn’t play the next. He made a return to the NBA in the 2000-01 season, only playing 11.9 minutes a game in the 41 games he played. He would not play another game for an NBA team. He talked about reaching out to get just a tryout.

“My agent would reach out to teams and they would say,’ We’re not interested, and it has nothing to do with his basketball skills,'” Abdul-Rauf said.

This happened multiple times, Abdul-Rauf said, and he suffered from their actions. Through all that, he carried on his protest. To this day, he refuses to stand for the national anthem. His mission was never about himself, he said.

“My motivation was never to make money, it was just to help others,” Abdul-Rauf said. “I always tried to use what other said to make fun of me because it was fuel.”

He travels around the country talking to groups and students about the discrimination he suffered and his peaceful protest of the national anthem, he said.

“In terms of the position I took, I will always take that position and I don’t regret that”, Abdul-Rauf said.

Faezh Dalieh, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of Muslim Student’s Association, said she hoped for every person who attended the event learned from the story Abdul-Rauf told.

“We welcome and encourage everyone to come to our events and learn, no matter what you believe or what background you come from,” Dalieh said. “A common misconception is that (we) only allow our group’s members to attend, but we want everyone to go.”

Paige Hunt, a senior in the College of Health Sciences and MUSG vice president of programming, said she was hopeful students took the experience to attend, listen and ask questions.

“Being a student presented with opportunities like this one is a very unique experience that will not always be available after college,” Hunt said. “(Abdul-Rauf) can provide opinions and insight on issues that many students do not understand.”

“Muslim Americans face many trials that are not talked about enough,” Hunt said. “The goal was to open a dialogue about these issues so that we can hopefully continue these talks in the future.”

Abdul-Rauf said he uses his story of how he learned what the flag meant him to help others form opinions of their own. “The more I traveled, the more I talked to people, the more I read, the more my mind opened up,” Abdul-Rauf said. “I hope we get to that point for everyone eventually.”

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