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“PEOPLE WERE AFRAID TO LISTEN” The story behind Mahmoud Abdul Rauf's protest


Mahmoud Abdul Rauf was ahead of his time, on and off the court. On the court, he's the answer to the "How would Steph Curry do in the 90s?" question. The only year Abdul Rauf was allowed to take more than 5 threes a game, he shot 39.2% from deep. A career 90% shooter from the free-throw line, Mahmoud is one of the best shooters in NBA history. But that's not his greatest legacy.

Another thing Abdul Rauf was ahead of his time is, unfortunately, the thing that got him blackballed from the NBA. Years before Colin Kaepernick, he stopped standing for the national anthem as a protest. Abdul Rauf said that the flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, costing Mahmoud $31,707 per missed game.

He reached a compromise with the league, agreeing to stand for the national anthem, but he would do so with his eyes closed, bowing his head and often praying. Bryant Stith, his teammate, shared the atmosphere in the locker room during this time. 

Mahmoud was a devout Muslim. He walked it, he lived it, he spoke it - so we were very comfortable with his perspective, and his ideas because we talked about it often. 

Bryan Stith

Stith pointed out Abdul Rauf was protesting for the whole season, but until someone made it a thing on talk radio, no-one made a big deal about it. Once it became a topic of national discussion, consequences came. In 1996, the basketball community was much less prepared for such action.

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It was so novel of an idea that somebody would stand up against the American flag. It forced people to take a stand, and a lot of people were uncomfortable supporting Mahmoud at that time. That went for players, that went for management, that went for ownership, and that went for the NBA. 

Bryan Stith

The fact players in the locker room didn't take issue with it, because they had the chance to get to know Mahmoud, learn about his ideas and reasons behind his actions, goes to show what the solution here is. You can't form an opinion on something so important in 10-15 minutes. Unfortunately, that's what happened for Abdul Rauf. 

At that moment in time, people were afraid to listen and hear what Mahmoud was trying to say. It put people in a difficult position, and it forced him [Mahmoud] out of the NBA. 

Bryan Stith

Because of people like Abdul Rauf and Colin Kaepernick, that conversation wasn't such a tabu for today's society. Their careers had to die for people to have that first uncomfortable conversation about something that was tabu. Players today have agency because Mahmoud Abdul Rauf took it when it wasn't easy or popular. 

When the Lakers won the championship, Adam Silver mentioned he's sure the NBA will one day have an award named after LeBron James. I think Mahmoud Abdul Rauf should have one named after him. 

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