Twenty years later, despite losing prime years of NBA stardom, enduring death threats and having his home burned to the ground, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf still does not stand for the national anthem. The quicksilver guard who foreshadowed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest is now living in Atlanta, taking care of his five teenage children along with his ex-wife, training NBA players, and giving lectures on standing up for what you believe in. At age 47, he has no regrets about choosing the difficult journey that Kaepernick is just starting.
Abdul-Rauf first came to public attention as a Louisiana State University freshman sensation then named Chris Jackson. At just 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, he averaged 30 points per game with a hair-trigger jumper and acrobatic layups. Despite having Tourette’s syndrome, he went pro after his sophomore year, was picked third in 1990 by the Denver Nuggets, and converted to Islam. By the 1995-96 campaign, Abdul-Rauf was doing unguardable Stephen Curry things, such as giving Utah 51 points and dropping 32 on Michael Jordan when dealing the Chicago Bulls a rare loss in their 72-win season.
That season also is when Abdul-Rauf’s conscience told him not to stand for the anthem. At first, nobody noticed as he stretched or stayed inside the locker room instead. When a reporter finally asked about it, the issue exploded.
Like Kaepernick, Abdul-Rauf said he viewed the American flag as a symbol of oppression and racism. Abdul-Rauf also said standing for the anthem would conflict with his Muslim faith because you can’t be for God and also for oppression.
Do you get ridiculed? Do you hear the nonsense? Do people try to assassinate your character? Yes, but when it’s all said and done, you’re like, man, I feel good because I know that I’m standing on something that I believe in.”
On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for one game, citing a rule that players must line up in a “dignified posture” for the anthem. It cost him almost $32,000 of his $2.6 million salary. The players union supported Abdul-Rauf, and he quickly reached a compromise with the league that allowed him to stand and pray with his head down during the anthem. But at the end of the season, the Nuggets traded Abdul-Rauf, who averaged a team-high 19.2 points and 6.8 assists, to the Sacramento Kings. READ MORE
His playing time dropped. He lost his starting spot. After his contract expired in 1998, Abdul-Rauf couldn’t get so much as a tryout with any NBA team. He was just 29 years old.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: Kneeling To Take A Stand
National College Tour 2018
“I want to live and die with a free conscience and a free soul when it’s all said and done. That’s the journey I’m on.”
20 years before Colin Kaepernick, it was Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf – an American pro basketball player – who protested the national anthem. AJ+ asked him what’s changed in two decades – and what hasn’t.