New documentary details how star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was blackballed

Feb 9, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: 9:07 am

15 Mar 1996: Point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets stands in prayer during the singi...

15 Mar 1996: Point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets stands in prayer during the singing of the National Anthem before the Nuggets game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Abdul-Rauf came to an agreement with

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was ahead of his time.

The Denver Nuggets’ third-overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft was a pioneer in his approach to shooting the long ball, and was a trailblazer for how athletes act away from the games they play.

The six-season Nuggets’ undersized guard hoisted over five threes a game, shooting 39% for 19 points and seven assists per game in the 1995-96 season. The former most improved player’s career year would be his last in Denver. He would play two years in Sacramento with the Kings before he was soon run out of the league.

Way before Colin Kaepernick protested social injustices by kneeling during the national anthem Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner in 1996. In a compromise with the league he did stand in the future but closed his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited Islamic prayer during this time for those who are suffering from all walks of life and ethnic background, as he believed the song was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny.

Abdul-Rauf only played four more games for the Nuggets after the NBA’s initial suppression for refusing to stand for the song. He went on to play parts of three more seasons in the NBA but mostly spent his pro career overseas.

YouTube video

“Raw and unflinching examination of the courageous life of basketball star and social justice activist Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” Showtime describes their documentary. “Born Chris Jackson, he overcame tremendous adversity to reach the NBA and found his true calling when he converted to Islam. His decision not to stand for the national anthem, however, turned him from prodigy to pariah. Told candidly by Abdul-Rauf himself more than 20 years later it’s the remarkable story of one man who kept the faith and paved the way for a social justice movement.”

From a sporting standpoint Abdul-Rauf, just 26 when he last played in Denver, is one of Nuggets history’s biggest what-ifs. What if the league and club were more tolerant of his views, could he have been a more noteworthy precursor to Steph Curry and the guards of today? What if he was allowed to keep playing in the Mile High City, could he have kept the Nuggets from the atrocious seasons that ended with the team drafting Carmelo Anthony?

But Abdul-Rauf’s story is much bigger than that of one pro basketball team playing in a dusty old cowtown.

This story was originally published by Sactown Sports‘ sister station, Denver Sports. For more, follow Jake Shapiro on Twitter

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New documentary details how star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was blackballed