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Abdul-Rauf: Kaepernick’s situation ‘mirrors what I went through’

The oldest player in the BIG3 league knows protest can derail a career

There will be flashes from the past on the hardwood Sunday when Ice Cube unveils his BIG3 basketball league in Brooklyn, New York. Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin and Clyde Drexler are coaches. Allen Iverson is a player-coach.

​Perhaps the most surprising player suiting up will be former NBA sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who is the oldest player in the 3-on-3 league at 48 years old.

Abdul-Rauf played nine years in the NBA, the last in 2001, and is one of the greatest free-throw shooters in league history. The former Louisiana State University star is best known for refusing to stand for the national anthem during the 1995-96 NBA season and calling the American flag a symbol of oppression.

​When Abdul-Rauf takes the court with the Three-Headed Monsters in the BIG3 League on Sunday, his controversial story will certainly come back to life.

​“It’s nothing that I regret,” Abdul-Rauf said of his stance against the flag and anthem. “I’m still doing the same things. I’m still speaking out against what I see as injustice, whether it’s on college campuses or conventions. That hasn’t changed and I don’t plan on that changing. So, I still feel the same way.

“I don’t feel like much has changed, if anything at all. Black folks are still being victimized disproportionately in the penal institution. It seems they are definitely disproportionately being shot and killed by policemen. Just overall the position that we are confronted with, and also being a Muslim, look at what Muslims are going through in this nation. I don’t think really anything has changed, by and large.”

Abdul-Rauf talked to The Undefeated about NFL free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, playing at his age, the challenge of the four-point shot, and more.

Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf stands with his teammates and prays during the national anthem before the game with the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, March 15, 1996, in Chicago. Abdul-Rauf, saying that the U.S. flag was a symbol of “oppression and tyranny,” was suspended Tuesday for sitting down during the national anthem. Friday was Abdul-Rauf’s first game back.

AP Photo/Michael S. Green

Have you talked to Kaepernick? What do you think about what he is going through with no NFL team willing to sign him after he protested during the national anthem last season?

We met through friends of his, but it’s not surprising to me what he is going through. I said from the beginning that I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t get another job. With all the death threats and assassinations of his character, it mirrors what I went through. This is just the way things are. It’s unfortunate when in particular black athletes are in this position.

I remember the words of [linguist] Noam Chomsky saying all these other things could easily be accepted and we can let them go. But to try to influence people to be socially, racially and politically conscious opposite of what the mainstream wants us to think is unacceptable. Athletes are looked at and viewed with much more importance than teachers and professors by far by the youth. There was a time years ago during Edgar Hoover where they wanted athletes basically brain-dead. Pushed away from the Muhammad Ali types. Those things are promoted day in and day out.

When a person like Kaepernick or anybody else comes and stands out against anything that is contrary to what image they want you to have as an athlete, then they will make an example of you because they want to discourage other athletes from doing the same thing. And that’s just my take on it. And it doesn’t surprise me. It’s just sad. You are hoping that it will galvanize us as people and say, look we not going to tolerate this anymore, period. You ain’t going to do this to this person, and then especially when you see blatant examples of when you’re white or other people doing things that are even worse. I’m talking about assault, battery, rape, whatever and nothing happens. But he speaks out as an activist and you want to deny him access to a profession that he has been training most of his life for, it’s not like he can just pick up right now and go and become an engineer and a doctor. And you are trying to take his livelihood away just because of that when you see all of these other examples.

And unfortunately, we don’t come together and fight and hit them where it hurts in the pocket. Hit them where it hurts. That’s what the United States does, anytime they have a problem with a country we affect them financially at the negotiating table. And what happens? They bring their friends and say don’t trade with them, buy from them, nothing, and eventually what happens is most of them come back to the negotiating table because their pocket has been hit. But we are still going to support them, we’re still going to pay for those tickets, still support them.

It’s just sad. My heart goes out to him, and I think about it constantly. He seems to still be doing well and still giving and pursuing his passion, but it bothers me. It really does.

Do you plan to reach out to Kaepernick?

I’m almost certain a bunch of people are in his ear. We already had the personal meet and greet. If he feels he wants to talk to me, my door is always open to him. I just feel I know he has what he needs, not only with his mind and what he feels but with the network of people he has with him that he has a strong core of conscious and intelligent brothers that can help him more than I can. I’m just happy to see that he is still at it.

How did you get involved in the BIG3?

There was some interest from the people that were [running] it. They were excited about me coming out. And I said, ‘OK, I’ll see what this is about and give it a shot.’ I’m always in the gym pretty much, training anyway. So why not? And that’s how the interest was sparked initially. Then I began to learn more about it in terms of the details, the shot clock, the handchecking. All of that stuff, it sounded interesting, so let’s see. And we are competitors by nature. That doesn’t necessarily leave. For many of us, we have something left in the tank. And I’m always saying to myself, ‘When it’s gone, it’s gone. So, enjoy it while it’s here.’ And this is a golden opportunity to at least try this one more time. If not, a few more times.

Are you excited or nervous for Sunday’s debut?

Both. The excitement is very strong. But I have always been equally as nervous. Not scared. There is a difference. From the moment I started playing in elementary school, I get the same jittery feeling before every game. For me, it helps keep me focused. I’m always nervous until I touch the ball because there is always a nervousness about you wanting to do your best. You always want to play your best.

I was just talking to somebody the other day. We train to be killers. We train to dominate. But we don’t know what is going to happen. We train with that mentality with, ‘This is my intentions. This is what I’m hoping for.’ But I never expect anything, because we all have our days. That’s why they have a thing called a slump. So, you know I have always kept that mentality throughout my whole life. Look, when I am training, I keep my mind on being the best and dominating. But I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I can just tell you what my intentions are.

Was it odd trying out for the BIG3?

No, because as an athlete playing professional sports and even in college, I never get comfortable. I think that’s the problem that some people make. Every day you have to prove yourself all over again. Or that’s the way you should take it. When you already figure you got it made, I just don’t take that mentality. I wasn’t like that when I went to LSU. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I went to LSU, because they didn’t promise me that I would start.

How do you know from the summer to when the season starts that I won’t get better or get worse or that somebody might not come in here? How do you promise me something like that? So, when they told me if you come here and work and you got what it takes, you’re going to play. … And that’s all I needed. I shook their hand and said, ‘Hey, I’m coming to play.’

How are you still able to do this physically at your age?

I stay in the gym, it’s a lifestyle for me, it’s in my DNA and I work out hard. Just the other day we ran about 15 hills. This is what I do. I believe in longevity. We lunged literally the equivalent of three blocks, and then we jumped about a block and a half … This is crazy. I try to stay in shape and I’m happy somebody saw it and said, ‘Hey, he has something to contribute.’ So, we will see on the 25th and the rest of the 10 weeks.

Have you met Ice Cube yet?

Yeah, I met him when I was in Vegas. We took a picture. We shook hands. He came to me after I was picked. He said, ‘I’m so happy that a team picked you. You’re going to play well.’ And I just really hope so. This first game … We hear the rules, but it ain’t gonna hit home until we get out there. When you talk about a 14-second shot clock and if they make it, you got to get it back out and clear past half court while the clock is still ticking, this is not going to be a slow-paced game. It’s going to be up-tempo and it’s going to be some physical play, which is going to take more energy.

So, I hope guys come out and take it serious because this man has put his name, his finances on the line and we would want the same. I hope people come and are getting in shape, taking this serious. And then I think about the future generation. Let’s face it, money is funny and this could be an opportunity for some of those players who may have had difficult times financially but they still got something if we do well right now, and this is something that he can continue to build upon. And if he can take it overseas, this is a possible income and a door that can be opened that even if they are in their 30s they have an opportunity. You just never know.

Would you consider playing overseas again?

No, I’m not looking to play overseas, not that I don’t think I can’t. But I really love the skill development side of it, taking guys who really want to work on their game and helping them reach that level of their game so they can go in and be the best that they can be as well as getting those huge contracts and taking care of their families. I really love that side of it. And then I love my free time with my family, because for so many years, especially going overseas, it took time away from my family for a little bit.

When was the last time, before the BIG3 combine, that you played in a competitive game with referees?

I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t play in summer before the BIG3 combine leagues. I don’t even play all the time. I work out, do a lot of circuit training. Then I may go in the gym and put up some shots every now and then, but I wasn’t working necessarily every day with the basketball. But I did get in there and get some shots up and go through some drills here and there.

Are you an Ice Cube fan? Are you familiar with the lyrics from his days as a solo artist?

I can’t remember all the lyrics, but I was that guy that grew up with all of the N.W.A. stuff. There are some songs that when I hear it, I like the sound. I can’t necessarily tell you the titles of them now because it was so long ago. But if I hear somebody playing it I’ll say, ‘I like that one right there.’

But I will say this, I don’t really know him and you have those people that are actors and you know they are acting. But he’s always come off to me as himself. You can see him in what he is acting. So, I appreciate that he seems to always be the kind of dude that doesn’t mind speaking his conscience. And I can’t see why that would change because of the lyrics. If they came out during that time, it was revolutionary to say what they were saying when they were saying it.

What do you think about the four-point shot in the BIG3 League?

It’s a long shot to make it, and a long shot to take it. If people know you need the four-pointer, they are not just going to let you take it. You have to get there and on the move, be able to turn into it or go straight up. So, it’s going to be challenging. But I would only look for those shots when it’s needed. Or if we’re just so far up and you give it to me, at some point they might need to add it to the NBA because these guys are shooting that thing from way out there.

So, [Ice Cube] might have started something, because I heard even with the 3-on-3 they are incorporating it with the Olympics. So, this might be something that gets huge and grows, so I think he’s on to something.

I’m guessing fans are excited about you and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams playing together?

Yeah, I played against him briefly when he was in Sacramento and my last year in Vancouver. I know he can handle that thing and can see the floor well, so we will see if we are ever on the court together. We can take turns like Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas, see how it works.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.