Abdur-Rahim, Shareef 1976–
Shareef Abdur-Rahim 1976–
Professional basketball player
Shareef Abdur-Rahim is, according to Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated, “the best NBA player you never see.” In college he played for the California Golden Bears, where he became the first freshman to win the Pacific-10 (Pac-10) Player of the Year Award. After one season of college ball he joined the Vancouver Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association (NBA). While the team’s losing record has kept Abdur-Rahim out of the spotlight, his dedication to improving his game and his well-grounded upbringing have prepared him for the fame that almost certainly lies ahead.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim was born December 11, 1976. His name means “noble servant of the Most Merciful One.” Abdur-Rahim grew up in a big family, which included seven siblings, in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. Abdur-Rahim’s father, William, was a Muslim prayer leader at the Masjid Al-Muminum (Mosque of the Believers) in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned his living unloading freight for a trucking company. The family followed the rules of the Muslim faith very closely and Abdur-Rahim often helped his father distribute food to the poor or joined him on visits with people in drug rehabilitation centers.
Abdur-Rahim’s love of basketball sparked at age six, when he found a flyer for a recreational basketball league. He carried the notice in his pocket all day, excited about joining a team. When he got home he begged his father to let him play. By his senior year at Marietta Wheeler High School Abdur-Rahim had grown to six feet, nine inches and 215 pounds. Twice he led his school to the Georgia state basketball finals. During his senior season Abdur-Rahim averaged 29 points and 12 rebounds as Wheeler won the Georgia AAAA State Championship. During his four years in high school he scored 1, 457 points and twice earned State Player of the Year honors. Teammates gave him the nickname, “The Future.”
Growing up near Atlanta, Abdur-Rahim was a big fan of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Many experts expected him to play basketball at Georgia Tech, but in a surprise move he decided instead to attend the University of California. The strong Muslim community at the university influenced his decision.
Golden Bears’ coach, Todd Bozeman, had learned about Muslim customs before his recruitment visit with
At a Glance…
Born December 11, 1976, in Marietta, Georgia; son of William Abdur-Rahim; Education: University of California, attended.
Career: Professional basketball player. Vancouver Grizzlies, forward, 1996-.
Awards: Named to NBA All-Rookie team, 1997; gold medal, basketball, Olympics 2000.
Addresses: c/o Vancouver Grizzlies, General Motors Place, 800 Griffiths Way, Vancouver, BC, V6B 6G1.
Abdur-Rahim and enlisted the help of Hashim Alaud-deen, a graduate student at the university who was active in the Muslim community. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a guard with the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and a fellow Muslim, also advised Abdur-Rahim to attend the University of California. Abdur-Rahim’s mother—who was divorced from his father—and his sister, Qaadirah, moved with him on his journey west.
Abdur-Rahim became an instant starter for the Golden Bears during the 1995-96 season. In his first three games he averaged 32.3 points a game and shot 73.9 percent from the floor. “I think he’s at peace with himself, and that helps,” Bozeman explained in the Star Tribune. “He’s just out there playing. He’s entrenched in the game. That’s unusual for a freshman.”
Abdur-Rahim possessed the ability to score inside, but he could also move outside and hit the jumper when necessary. He also demonstrated a maturity on the court unusual for a player so young. “He’s a tremendous player,” University of Illinois coach Lou Henson related to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.“He’s the total package.”
Abdur-Rahim became the first freshman to win the Pac-10 Player of the Year Award and was a Third Team All-American pick. He led the Pac-10 in scoring (21.6 points per game), grabbed 8.7 rebounds (third in the Pac-10), shot 52 percent from the floor, and finished fifth in the conference in steals (1.86 per games) and blocked shots. The freshman phenomenon also set Golden Bear freshman records for points (590), scoring average (21.1), field goals (206), and free throws (170).
Media and coaches named Abdur-Rahim the national freshman of the year and he was a finalist for the John Wooden Award, given annually to college basketball’s best player. “He has such an inner peace out on the floor,” Bozeman told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “He plays a total game. I recruited him to be a go-to guy, and he is.”
The Golden Bears earned a spot in the 1996 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Basketball Tournament. Their season came to an abrupt halt, however, when they lost 74-64 in the first round against the Iowa State Cyclones. Abdur-Rahim posted season-lows in the defeat (with 7 points and only 2 rebounds).
After his freshman season at the University of California, Abdur-Rahim had a tough decision to make. Professional scouts had made it clear that he would be a high draft pick if he decided to enter the 1996 NBA Draft. Abdur-Rahim wanted to play again for the Golden Bears, but he also realized that he had a responsibility to help support his family. “If I was in this world by myself, I’d stay at the University of California,” he explained to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.
Abdur-Rahim at first announced that he would make himself available in the draft, but then changed his mind. Then, in another reversal, he announced that God had helped him make the decision to turn professional. The young man broke out in tears when he announced his decision. “It’s been real exciting to be in a situation to fulfill a dream” Abdur-Rahim told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.“And to be in a situation where I can take care of myself. I wanted to put myself in a position where I could prove myself. This was a decision I had to make for myself. But at the same time, I look back and see how my mom had sacrificed a lot in life for me. My dad had sacrificed a lot. It was [now] up to me.” William Abdur-Rahim supported his son’s decision, telling the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “What we see is Shareef living up to his name.”
The fact that the University of California faced NCAA probation for recruiting violations also influenced Abdur-Rahim’s decision. The next season Bozeman was fired after the NCAA revealed several violations in the Golden Bears’ program. Abdur-Rahim earned a 3.5 grade point average in his one year of college.
The Vancouver Grizzlies used the third pick in the draft to select Abdur-Rahim. “I’m very, very happy,” he announced in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “Vancouver was a place I really got a good feel for [after making a pre-draft visit]. I went back home and told my family, hopefully, that would be the place I would have a chance to go, because I felt so comfortable. I just want to thank God, it’s finally here. Some have always said, ‘Man plans, and God plans, God is the best of planners.’ I felt like God planned this.” The newest Grizzly signed a three-year #6.3 million contract.
Abdur-Rahim was only 19 when he played his first NBA game, the fourth youngest player in the league. The Grizzlies were a second-year expansion team and had only one player over the age of 27. Abdur-Rahim led the Grizzlies in both scoring and rebounding in the preseason, but got off to a slow start once the regular season began. He was benched early in the year because he took several poor shots. “I got off to a bad start,” he admitted to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “It took me by surprise, some of the things I was doing.”
The Grizzlies began the season playing Abdur-Rahim at small forward. He struggled because both his outside shot and defensive quickness were not suited to the position. On the college court, Abdur-Rahim had become accustomed to playing close to the basket, but in the NBA he had to learn how to guard players who were both larger and faster than he was. To help him adjust, Vancouver moved Abdur-Rahim to power forward and also gave him extra attention.
Before long Abdur-Rahim had adjusted to the NBA and began to thrive in his new environment. He and Kerry Kittles earned co-Rookie of the Month honors in December of 1996 after averaging 18.9 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. Abdur-Rahim improved his scoring average to 24 points for games played in January and he shot 53 percent from the field. “I’m just figuring out what I can do on defense and offense and the ways I can contribute,” he explained to the Dallas Morning News.In January, Abdur-Rahim scored a franchise-record 37 points in a game against the Golden State Warriors. His play earned him a spot in the NBA All-Star Rookie Game, where he scored 17 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.
By the end of the 1996-97 season Abdur-Rahim had emerged as a legitimate candidate for NBA Rookie of the Year. Not only was he developing into a star on the court, but his maturity and ability to deal with difficult decisions impressed his coaches. “No question, he’s the rookie of the year,” Vancouver assistant coach Lionel Hollins explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Shareef’s all maturity and character. The character allows you to fight through all of this. The maturity gives a perspective to it all. You still have to learn. If you just quit because you’re losing, you’re never going to be the player you could be.”
Abdur-Rahim finished the year averaging 18.7 points (first on the team) and 6.9 rebounds. When the vote for NBA Rookie of the Year was announced, he had finished third, behind the winner, Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Stephon Marbury of the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, Abdur-Rahim was the only unanimous selection to the NBA All-Rookie Team.
Abdur-Rahim was happy with his rookie year, despite the fact that Vancouver finished with the NBA’s worst record, 14-68. In the off-season the Grizzlies replaced coach Brian Winter with Brian Hill, who had taken the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals. Hill was thrilled to have Abdur-Rahim on his team. “He’s a very mature player, a smart player,” told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “He has great skills. With the kind of person he is and his ability, you have to see stardom in his future.”
Abdur-Rahim improved his second year, teaming up with seven-footer Bryant “Big Country” Reeves to give Vancouver a solid one-two punch inside. Abdur-Rahim increased his scoring average in his second year to 22.3 points and he grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game. “I think I’ve grown a lot,” he declared in the Rocky Mountain News. “I really didn’t know what to expect last year, so I just did whatever. This year, I know how to handle everything. I know that I need to do to be prepared [going] into a game or practice or a season. It’s not as tough, because I know what to expect.”
The only downside to Abdur-Rahim’s year was that the Grizzlies continued to lose. “I’ve never lost this much in my life,” he admitted to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “It’s hard to grasp. I’m a very competitive person. We’ve had some rough times, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”
In order to continue to improve Abdur-Rahim knew he has to build up his body and strength. At 6 feet, 9 inches and 230 pounds he had a hard time bumping up against the bigger players of the NBA. “I’m still behind physically,” he confessed to the Rocky Mountain News. “I lift weights and work as hard as I can. The fact that guys in the league are as strong as they are, I have to use my [assets]. A lot of times, I’m quicker than guys, or I might run the floor a little bit better, and I try to use the advantages I do have and try not to dwell on how much stronger they are than me.”
While many sports stars have gained notoriety from their unsportsmanlike behavior on and off the court, Abdur-Rahim has remained a nice person despite his success. “You’re not going to find a more humble or respectful young man,” Vancouver general manager Stu Jackson related to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “He has great respect for the people who preceded him.” In keeping with the dictates of Islam, Abdur-Rahim has abstained from drinking or smoking. As down-to-earth as ever, Abdur-Rahim enjoyed filling his free time with movies, video games, shooting pool. He has also become a collector of basketball jerseys.
Following the 1998-99 season Abdur-Rahim became a free agent. Now able to sign a contract with any team, Abdur-Rahim decided to remain at Vancouver. His game continued to improve. In 1999 Abdur-Rahim scored is 5000th point during a game against Denver. He was the second youngest player in NBA history to reach this milestone. During a February 6, 2000 game against the Dallas Mavericks, Abdur-Rahim scored a season high of 36 points. He also eared a career-high and Grizzlies record with 22 rebounds. Also in 2000, Abdur-Rahim was selected to play on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team at the Olympics and helped the team win the coveted gold medal.
No one can guess what lies ahead for “The Future,” but one thing is certain. Abdur-Rahim will always continue to work hard to improve his game. “I just keep growing, playing hard and developing,” he told USA Today. “That’s all. My game has grown a lot as far as understanding where I need to be and what I need to do. I try to do things differently, bring my own twist to the game, my personality. When I’m done, I hope to leave my mark like other great players have done.” Despite earning a high salary, Abdur-Rahim has not allowed his financial success to overshadow his genuine love for the game. “[I’m still] like that kid shooting baskets by himself at midnight, simply for the love of the game.” he told Sports Illustrated. “Basketball has done so much for me that I don’t want to corrupt that love by playing for the money, the fame or the hype.”
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 12, 1995; February 4, 1996; February 8, 1996; March 14, 1996; May 8, 1996; May 31, 1996; June 23, 1996; June 26, 1996; June 27, 1996; August 7, 1996; November 26, 1996; November 23, 1997; February 20, 1998.
Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1996; May 7, 1997.
National Post, September 16, 2000.
Newsday, February 18, 1996.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 23, 1995; March 4, 1997.
Sports Illustrated, September 9, 1996; January 27, 1997; April 7, 1997, February 2, 1998.
USA Today, September 22, 1994; May 31, 1996; January 13, 1997; January 20, 1998.
Additional information for this profile was obtained online at the NBA website, http://www.nba.com.
—Michael A. Paré and Jennifer M. York
"Abdur-Rahim, Shareef 1976–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/abdur-rahim-shareef-1976
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