Though it doesn’t happen all the time, some NBA stars also get starstruck by their fellow legendary athletes. Especially if who they ran into was as iconic as the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali. That had been the case with former Vancouver Grizzlies star Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
A monumental encounter
Abdur-Rahim took the NBA by storm as a versatile power forward included in the star-studded 1996 Draft Class. He became a marquee player for the Vancouver Grizzlies and picked up where he left off after being shipped off to the Atlanta Hawks in 2001. It was in ATL where Reef finally became an All-Star.
In 2002, Abdur-Rahim arrived at the First Union Center in Philadelphia to play his first and only All-Star game. Courtside that night was Ali, whom he had looked up to since he was a kid.
As expected, Abdur-Rahim was moved. He couldn’t say much about how elated he was at the time, so he decided to blog about the once-in-a-lifetime experience on his website.
“He had that effortless cool most iconic personalities possess,” Abdur-Rahim wrote of Ali. “All of these attributes made him a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.”
Abdur-Rahim added that he has long been fascinated by Ali’s grit, flamboyance, and wit. However, as he aged, Reef learned to appreciate that “championship spirit” Ali displayed whenever he faced adversities.
“We often celebrate champions for winning, but what we tend to overlook is the championship spirit that drives them to get up when they’re knocked down. Ali always got up — inside and outside the ring,” he pointed out.
Reef had that championship spirit but…
Judging from the outside, Ali and Abdur-Rahim were outright nothing alike. Ali was a champion almost his entire career, while Reef never won an NBA title. But make no mistake, Abdur-Rahim had that same winning mentality Ali possessed during his prime years in boxing. Unfortunately, Reef just happened to be on the wrong team during his time in the NBA.
“If anything, I would have liked to have played on some better teams, teams that were further along,” Abdur-Rahim reflected. “Had that happened, then maybe that wouldn’t be the sentiment…But I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to play at the level I did. I was an All-Star.”
Looking back at Abdur-Rahim’s NBA career, he was never the flashiest and most talented athlete like Ali in boxing. However, it’s quite interesting to know that, though it wasn’t that evident, Reef had that Ali mentality in him.