Will The NBA Players Follow In The Steps Of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Or Will They Acquiesce To The Wishes Of The League?

While 90’s are known as the golden era in hip hop, in some ways it’s known as the golden era in basketball too. Apart from Michael Jordan being Michael Jordan, it seemed like almost anybody could beat anybody. You could say that this is because the best player in the history of the game was showing you why he is the best player in the history of the game. However, an argument could be made that the league was more competitive during this time because the stars were not grouping together so almost every team had a star and more teams had hope to win a championship but, that is another topic altogether.

Enter the Denver Nuggets a team that was two years removed from a legendary first round upset of the #1 seeded Seattle Supersonics and one year removed from a first round exit. Despite that first round exit, they still had a future because they had top rookie in Antonio McDyess and an All Star in Dikembe Mutombo. However, the most forgotten player from this team might be most important and that might not be by accident. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was one of the best players on that team. Phil Jackson said he was Stephen Curry before Stephen Curry. Technically, you could call him the best free throw shooter of all time because he shot 90.5% from the free throw line in his career which is higher than the highest recognized free throw percentage in NBA history of 90.4%. However, you have to had shot 1,200 free throws over your career to be on the all time free throw shooter list and he shot 1,161. He was so good that he beat a Bulls team that would go on to win 72 games by dropping 32 points on them. In the same season, he dropped 51 on the Utah Jazz, one of the best teams of that era. All this and the very next year he gets traded in the height of his prime. Why? He got injured around 50 games into the season and had to miss the rest of it and despite looking like a budding star during his playing days, his lasting legacy has more to do with non-basketball reasons.

At the time of getting drafted in 1990, his name was Chris Jackson. Around a year later, he converted to Islam and soon after changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. In the 95-96 season, after studying his religion further, he decided to no longer stand for the national anthem. He claimed the flag was a tyrannical symbol and represented oppression. He was doing it all season but, when he got asked about and answered honestly, people didn’t like the answer they got. He got suspended by the league for 1 game but, was able to come back after agreeing to pray instead of not stand at all. However, the damage was already done. The fans were already booing him all across the country. During the height of his prime, he was traded for a man that would retire the next year and on the team he went to, his minutes would be reduced dramatically. He was out of the league by 2001. If you ask him today, he will tell you that career was cut short due to his protest.

Fast forward to 2017 and you have Colin Kaepernick going through the same thing. The biggest difference? He started a movement. Players all over the league are kneeling to highlight the systematic racism that black people are still facing today. Every Sunday, people are tuning in not just for the game but, to see who’s going to kneel. For some reason, protest has become extra popular nowadays because not too long ago did all the owners kneel with all the players after Donald Trump said that the owners should fire anybody who kneels and called the players who kneeled “sons of b*****s”. Some of those owners hated the protests until this moment. So were they protesting systematic racism or Donald Trump?

As a result of all of this, the NFL ratings are down. Baseball is America’s pastime but, the NFL has been the most popular sport in America for a minute now. That’s a blessing and a curse for the NFL. The blessing? Money obviously. The curse? Trying to appeal to a country that’s incredibly divided almost to the core. Black people love football. White people love football. Democrats love football. Republicans love football. Conservatives love football. Liberals love football. The KKK loves football. Antifascists love football. Basketball players love football. EVERYBODY LOVES FOOTBALL, at least in the U.S. Now, the NFL has to cater to all these people at the same time. Since Donald Trump became president everything is politicized. The days when you could say “I don’t know about all that, man. I’m not really into politics like that” are over. So, when social issues enter into a sport where the fan base includes minorities and people who hate minorities, it’s going to be impossible to keep everybody  which is what the NFL is trying to do. Now, they have people protesting the NFL due to kneeling and people protesting due to the fact that a man is out of a job due to kneeling for the same reasons before it became the wave and the ratings are down because of it. The NHL is mostly white. They know how most of their fans feel. NASCAR even more. The postseason is in full effect right for the MLB and no protesting has happened so far so baseball may have nothing to worry about. But, the NBA season is coming up.

The NBA has a lot to worry about. Their players are known to take stands and use the league as their platform to make it. From the I can’t breathe T-shirts to the hoodies, this generation has always made statements when they felt necessary and the league welcomed it. Previous generations? Not so much, ask Craig Hodges a point guard that played with the Bulls got blackballed after handing a note to George Bush Sr. telling him about issues facing the black community while visiting the White House after a championship. Even ask Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. However, anthem protests haven’t really happened in the NBA since him. This may be why.

The NBA players could go overseas if they get blackballed. NFL players can’t. Most NBA contracts are guaranteed. Not so in the NFL. The view on talent in the NBA is honestly much different than in the NFL. Unless you’re a star quarterback, you’re viewed as replaceable. What would the Cavs do though, release LeBron James? But most importantly, the NFL doesn’t have a rule saying you have to stand for the national anthem. The NBA does. The commissioner that handed down the 1 game suspension to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf retired years ago. This is what current commissioner Adam Silver said he expects the players to stand. Kobe said he would protest though.

Sports, politics and, social activism have been aligned together for a VERY LONG TIME in American sports from Jackie Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, to the black athletes supporting Muhammad Ali, to the national anthem being played in the NFL in 2009. It’s just that, honestly, the generation before us by and large did not want to take a stand and just wanted to make their money and not ruffle any feathers. We got accustomed to that. That was wrong. This is nothing new. It is understandable that people want to get together put issues aside and watch their favorite team in unity. But, the longer you do that, the longer the problems linger. Problems such as police brutality and lack of economic opportunity existed longer before the NBA and the NFL. It’s only because they still exist why the protests have come to sports just like they did in the civil rights era. Fix those issues and you will see no more protests. And, the point of protest is to make people uncomfortable and the best way to do that is to protest the things that people are supposed to never protest like the flag. Not the troops. The flag.  People kneel instead of outright sit down out of respect for the soldiers.

The NBA season starts October 17. The NFL is trying to play both sides and they are getting protested on both sides because of it. Sports fans have to pick which side they’re going to be on and so do the leagues. The NBA has an opportunity to be on the right side of history. Will they do it. We Shall See.

Paul Robinson