Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Rumors
What was your reaction to the anthem protest of Colin Kaepernick and do you support his actions? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: My initial reaction, I was excited simply because I think it’s needed to spark a debate. It’s good to see athletes, in particular, speak out. Our contracts and endorsements have somewhat become tools to keep us silent. So I was excited that he took the stand and I’m for him, 1,000%. No question.
In researching what happened to you in 1996, you were fined, you were suspended and yet there the NBA had no rule against not standing for the national anthem. Why do you think they came down on you so hard? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: Well, it goes back, I think, to just the simple fact that as athletes, we’re not expected to [have] social or political positions. It seems like it’s OK to fall into other stereotypes. You have people on rape charges and that’s OK, we can accept that. But to be socially conscious, like a [Chicago Bulls guard] Craig Hodges or whoever, this is unacceptable. So let’s make an example to discourage other athletes from doing the same thing. And this is why I think it went down that way. Bernie [head coach Bernie Bickerstaff] called me into his office. I go down and he begins to tell me “hey they want you to stand or they’re going to suspend you.” I said, “Well, Bernie, tell them to do what they have to do.” I’m so naive at the time, I’m like, “look, well now can I go get dressed?” He said, “No you’re suspended now.” I said, “Well, can I put my clothes on and support the team?” He said “No, you’re not even allowed on the premises.” So I left. And then that’s when it hit the news and the rest is history.
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 occasional speeches to groups in black or Muslim communities. At age 47, he has no regrets about choosing the difficult journey that Kaepernick is just starting. “It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles,” Abdul-Rauf told The Undefeated. “Whether I go broke, whether they take my life, whatever it is, I stood on principles. To me, that is worth more than wealth and fame.”
Abdul-Rauf has never spoken to Kaepernick, and isn’t a football fan. But he supports the quarterback’s protest and message “1,000 percent,” saying that it created a valuable debate. “It’s good to continue to draw people’s attention to what’s going on whether you’re an athlete, a politician, or a garbage man. These discussions are necessary,” he said. “Sometimes it takes people of that stature, athletes and entertainers, because the youth are drawn to them, [more than] teachers and professors, unfortunately.”
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. “It’s a process of just trying to weed you out. This is what I feel is going to happen to [Kaepernick],” Abdul-Rauf said. “They begin to try to put you in vulnerable positions. They play with your minutes, trying to mess up your rhythm. Then they sit you more. Then what it looks like is, well, the guy just doesn’t have it anymore, so we trade him.”
Bernie Bickerstaff was the coach of the Nuggets at the time and went on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday to talk about those days. His first reaction was that of virtually every coach who has heard or talked about Kaepernick. “Distractions,” Bickerstaff said. “It caused a lot of distractions, and you know at that point the number of media members was not quite as resounding as it is today. But still, it was a distraction.” Bickerstaff said he was blindsided byAbdul-Rauf’s decision, and he said they scrambled to deal with the fallout. He said he and the brain trust of the team eventually had a meeting with the guard and told him if he wanted to be on the team he had to stand for the anthem.
“We had him come in, to sit down and have a conversation, and the conversation was about, the one thing that we have in this life is freedom of choice, and with that choice comes consequences. And my conversation with him was simply that one of the guys I probably admired most at that time was Muhammad Ali, because not only did he make a decision not to step forward but it was the part of it, the things that he gave up, and our message basically to (Abdul-Rauf) was ‘Hey, that’s the guy I admire. If you really feel that way then you go home, and you give us a call and let us know you’re willing to walk away from that contract, and then I can really, really, respect that… “When he got home, we got a call and he said ‘I think I want to be on the trip.’ And that’s our understanding, if you’re on the trip, then you’re standing.”