Former NBA All-Star and current G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim joined host Michael Scotto on the HoopsHype podcast. They discussed the 1996 draft class and looked back at his playing career, including how he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Pau Gasol. The pair also discussed the additions of “Scoot” Henderson and Michael Foster to the G League Ignite, what to expect from projected lottery picks Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, and more.
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1:00 What "Scoot" Henderson being a junior to class up and commit to the G League Ignite could mean long-term for prospects
Abdur-Rahim: This isn’t a new phenomenon if we look at it. A couple of years ago, we had Nico Mannion who essentially did something similar and he went to Arizona. RJ Hampton did something similar at the end of the summer and classed up and went overseas. Anthony Edwards did a similar deal and went to Georgia. This is, I think, a growing trend. With us now having Ignite as an option, it just enters Ignite into the conversation. We’ve seen young players doing this before. We had it with Jonathan (Kuminga). I think what’s new here and what people will be interested in possibly is Scoot’s age and him spending two years with Ignite.
3:00 What are your thoughts on Michael Foster’s game?
Abdur-Rahim: I think he’s a big-time talent. I think the time we’ll have with him to start introducing him to the professional game, the style of play, the emphasis we can put on his overall strength, understanding of the game, him knowing where and how he’ll likely play in the NBA and build a foundation. I think it’ll be awesome for him. The year with coach (Brian) Shaw will be extremely awesome for him and playing against the level of competition he’ll play against in the G League. In addition to that, starting to get acclimated to everything off the court will be a big benefit to him. I think he’s multi-dimensional as you see like a lot of young players these days. He can play inside and rebound, he’s skilled facing the basket. He’s a really good athlete.
5:05 What are your thoughts on G League Ignite prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga heading into this year’s draft?
Abdur-Rahim: I think both are big-time talents. They’re as talented as any young players entering the draft. I think they fit the way the game is being played now at the NBA level. They can play multiple positions and definitely guard multiple positions. They can dribble, pass, and shoot. Both of them are big-time athletes. I think the sky is the limit for them. Their intangibles, their intelligence, their work ethic. We saw in them this year their willingness to compete and take challenges. Both are tremendous young men. I think whatever organizations get them are getting top-flight people. I’m really high on them and what the future looks like for them.
6:10 Who are your player comparisons for Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga?
Abdur-Rahim: Jalen is a tough one. Coach Shaw did this with them. Some of the players he compared to Jalen were Zach LaVine, from an attacking standpoint Bradley Beal, those were some of the guys. In a different way, like a younger (Dwyane) Wade so to speak if you’re projecting a great, not to put pressure on him, but if you were to project like a great player on him. For Kuminga, coach Shaw likened him to OG Anunoby and Jaylen Brown. I think they’re both really unique players. Jalen’s quickness, ball-handling ability, and athleticism. I think what’s underrated about both of them is their passing ability, but Jalen’s ability to make plays for people and his ability to find unique ways to get into small spaces. I think he has the ability to be a high-level defender as well. Jonathan, he’s probably the most unique player in this draft in that he can play two or three positions and guard probably all five positions. I think he has the potential to be a big-time defender. His length, his quickness, he takes up a lot of space. He’s probably a better passer than people know.
9:03 Why should a top high school prospect consider the G League instead of college?
Abdur-Rahim: The approach has been to educate them. I think my position has been, if you’re considering taking the option that’s other than college, this should be something they really consider. I think the point there would be why it would be, I think, the focus on preparing them for the NBA on and off the court. I think we have unique insight into that. Coach Shaw is an NBA head coach. You have the ability to start learning from NBA veterans. You’re playing NBA-level competition.
11:05 What are some things you're working on with the G League looking ahead?
Abdur-Rahim: Getting our teams back into their home markets… Our players are now unionized, so working with the union to outline what will be our first Collective Bargaining Agreement. I feel like the G League is introducing players and staff that are the future of basketball, so continuing to outline the strategy and lay the infrastructure for just that, the future of basketball… New ideas and new rules.
13:45 Where do you think the 1996 draft class ranks all-time and what sticks out about that group?
Abdur-Rahim: What I think that draft signified was just very unique. Allen Iverson was maybe the smallest No. 1 pick of all-time at that time. He was such a unique player. Marcus Camby was so unique. Antoine Walker was a very unique player. Kevin (Garnett) started the wave of high schoolers coming in, and then Kobe (Bryant) and Jermaine O’Neal continued it. Stephon (Marbury) and myself were like the front end of the one-and-done. That wasn’t even a tagline at that point. Then, you had all of these successful players that had out-of-this-world success that no one would imagine that you’d get a two-time All-Star at the bottom of the lottery. You get a high school kid that was an MVP and an all-time great. You get a Hall of Famer and a four-time Defensive Player of the Year in Ben Wallace that was undrafted.
Where do we rank? My father would always talk to me when I was a kid about Oscar Robertson and how great he was and he averaged a triple-double. His point to me would always be we couldn’t say whichever player was the greatest all-time because you’ve got to think of Oscar and the triple-double or you’ve got to think of Bill Russell who won 11 rings. I’ve always tried to refrain from what’s better than a thing I didn’t have a great comparison against because I didn’t see it or I wasn’t a part of it. I have a hard time saying that class is better than the other noteworthy classes before. I think the class that’s in comparison is the 1984 class with Michael Jordan.
17:25 The 1984 draft, the 2003 draft and the 1996 draft class debate
Abdur-Rahim: I have a hard time saying it’s better than the Michael Jordan year as great as our class was and I get we have multiple Hall of Famers now and MVP guys in a great class. Now, I think everything after that like LeBron (James) and those guys are great, but I don’t think it compares to the 1996 class. I think their class is great and it’s top-heavy. You had players like (Allen) Iverson at the very top that had great careers and Ray Allen. Then, you go further down. Peja Stojakovic was a multi-time All-Star. Jermaine O’Neal was a multiple All-Star. Steve Nash was a two-time MVP. Kobe (Bryant) was bottom of the lottery, MVP, and an all-time great. Ben Wallace was an undrafted player. Derek Fisher. Guys like that people don’t even realize that were in our draft that were just big-time NBA players.
20:00 Did you think you’d end up in Vancouver or were there trade talks beforehand?
Abdur-Rahim: I knew pretty much. I was kind of like the last guy to put his name in the draft. I visited both Toronto and Vancouver. Toronto told me they were really high on Marcus Camby, but I was making it tough for them and they could take me at No. 2. Stu Jackson, who was the general manager, was like just come to Vancouver. Don’t even go to the draft. Just be here. We’re going to take you. I felt pretty good I wasn’t going to go below No. 3. I think the biggest thing for me was going to visit Vancouver. I don’t remember if it was before the draft, and I’m leaving the Bay Area and Oakland with my agent and asking him where Vancouver was? I had no idea where Vancouver was. His thing to me was it’s right next to Seattle. We had played the University of Washington that year, so I had a feel for that. That led to the start of my career and just five great years in Vancouver getting to learn about Canada and the culture of Vancouver. The people there were really good to me and really took me in. It was a great time.
22:40 What could’ve been if Steve Francis ended up not getting traded to the Rockets?
Abdur-Rahim: Isiah Thomas was running Toronto, and I think the approach he took was retooling and adding veterans. Our approach was a little longer, and Stu (Jackson) was kind of building through younger players. It was myself, Big Country (Bryant Reeves), Michael Dickerson, and Mike Bibby. We started turning the corner. We had a year where Lionel Hollins was our coach, and when he took over, we went on a roll and won four or five in a row, and we’d never done that. Then, the team was sold, and everything changed. I thought at the end of my third or fourth year, we started building momentum towards at least starting to understand what it’d take to win and building continuity. Believe it or not, Lawrence Frank was a behind the bench coach. Jay Triano, who is an assistant in Charlotte and was Toronto’s head coach, was one of our radio guys back then.
The team was sold and Mr. (Michael) Heisley, who was I think a great owner and a really good man, eventually moved the team to Memphis. I think that was kind of the break of the team. If we could’ve kept things together a little longer, what would that mean for us in Vancouver, and how basketball could’ve turned around? We were close at that time to becoming a better team.
Steve (Francis) did what was right for him, and he did great in Houston.
26:30 How did you find out about the trade to Atlanta for Pau Gasol and what did you think of it?
Abdur-Rahim: Mr. Heisley bought the team my third year. His thing to me was give me a year and let’s figure out what we’re doing. At the end of the year, if we’re not going the right way or we can’t take leaps, I’ll make sure you go somewhere that’s a good place for you. I was moving beyond just being a young player. I wanted to start moving in a direction where we were getting better. At the end of that year, he knew he was going to move the team, and it was probably going to be kind of a step back. He was going to trade Mike Bibby. He came to me and told me he had some options. Atlanta for me was home. I was excited for the opportunity in Atlanta for sure.
28:12 Any fun stories from the gold medal USA team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics behind the scenes?
Abdur-Rahim: You always have these things you want to accomplish as a young player. You want to be an All-Star. You want to win an NCAA Championship. For me, playing in the Olympics and winning a gold medal was one of those things from the early days of goals that I set. That was just one of those things you probably set as a goal and you think you’re never going to accomplish, but I was fortunate enough to be able to. That’s huge for me. That’s something that probably goes down as a highlight of my career.
I think one of the bigger misnomers about NBA players is that everyone is friends, and everybody hangs out. The truth of it is other than your teammates, you never really see guys. At least at that time. Guys do a better job now of meeting up and hanging out and doing things in the summer.
I learned from older guys. I hadn’t had the experience of having real veterans to learn from. In six weeks, I learned a ton from those guys about how to approach the game that I still keep with me.
During the opening ceremonies, Steve Smith and I would go watch table tennis and track and field. We didn’t stay in the Olympic village. We stayed in a hotel that was far out and there wasn’t a lot going on there. Every evening, literally the whole team would go bowl. I’d be on a team with Gary Payton against Steve and Ray Allen or Jason (Kidd).
31:20 What are your thoughts on your career overall?
Abdur-Rahim: I think I’m at a place where I’m at peace and really thankful for the experiences I had as an NBA player and all the things it opened up to me and what I was able to do for my family and my community. The platform and people it introduced me to are just phenomenal. There was a point in my career where you always want more. You’re competing against other guys and you’re competing against yourself, and that’s hard. It takes some of the joy out of the experience. Once I retired, my wife told me, “When you were playing, I didn’t like being around you during the season. You were awful to be around during the season.” It shocked me. She’s like, “If you guys lost and when you were on the bad teams, you were miserable. In the summers, you were fun.” You live with it if you’re competing. I wish when you look at my teams I was on some better teams here and there. But in its totality, I think everything that I experienced, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, has led me to where I am now. I love what I’m doing right now. Everything unfolded the way it was supposed to. I think you obviously want more. I think that’s human nature to want more, but I’m really at peace, content, and thankful more than anything. I was able to do something I dreamed about as a kid. I’m still in the mix and living through it.
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