UK Men's Basketball

BIG3 league allows former LSU star to return to scene of the sublime

Former NBA basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a native of Gulfport, Miss., held a document from the Mississippi House with a resolution recognizing his athletic endeavors on Feb. 26, 2013, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss.
Former NBA basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a native of Gulfport, Miss., held a document from the Mississippi House with a resolution recognizing his athletic endeavors on Feb. 26, 2013, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. AP

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf has not been in Rupp Arena since he scored 41 points against Kentucky on Feb. 15, 1990. Then he was known as Chris Jackson, a phenomenally talented guard for LSU.

Abdul-Rauf returns to Rupp Arena on Aug. 6 as part of a touring three-on-three league. (Tickets for the BIG3 games went on sale Saturday via ticketmaster.com.)

He has faint memories of a game that was 27 years, a conversion to Islam and a name change ago. By contrast, the game Kentucky won 100-95 is a lasting memory for those UK fans who saw it. It signaled that Rick Pitino’s embryonic rebuilding effort could achieve great things. After all, a shorthanded and under-sized UK team defeated an LSU team featuring not only Abdul-Rauf (an all-SEC player), but freshman giants Shaquille O’Neal (14 points, 21 rebounds against UK that game) and Stanley Roberts (13 points, 13 rebounds).

And Kentucky did not catch LSU unaware. To borrow from current UK Coach John Calipari, Abdul-Rauf said LSU approached the game with a Super Bowl-like anticipation.

“Granted, you’re trying to come at everybody you play against,” he said last week. “But it’s even more special, and it’s hard not to get up for a game with that many daggone people yelling and screaming.”

In four career games against Kentucky, Abdul-Rauf averaged 32.5 points. Maybe that’s the highest average for any UK opponent not named Pete Maravich.

“You look at some of the footage, and you’re like, how did you all allow me to score like that?” Abdul-Rauf said. “I mean, literally, it still amazes me to look back at the numbers. I’m just humbled by it. He was right on me. How come he didn’t reach and hit the ball? How come he didn’t put his hands up?”

Now, 48, Abdul-Rauf still trains daily.

“It’s in my DNA,” he said. “It’s therapeutic.”

Exercise provides a respite from the Tourette syndrome that affects Abdul-Rauf. Exhaustion relieves the symptoms of the neuropsychiatric disorder.

Abdul-Rauf trains and plays one-on-one against young athletes who have no knowledge of his former on-court achievements.

“They seem to be amazed at my quickness and ability to still get off my shot,” he said. “My strength is pretty much still there. My conditioning is still there. I think I’m still pretty quick to get where I want to go. Not the 20, 25-year-old quick. But I’m not complaining.”

Abdul-Rauf said he will participate in the three-on-three games (10 sites over 10 weeks this summer) to see how he can do against ex-pros who are 10 or 15 years younger.

“Of course, it’s a nice payday, too,” he said.

When asked how much the players are being paid, he said, “Nice enough to get us out there playing. It’s not a NBA contract. Definitely not what they’re making nowadays. But certainly decent.”

‘I hold true to it’

If he’s present on the Rupp Arena floor on Aug. 6, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf will not stand at attention during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem.

“If I stand, I’m going to pray,” he said. “If I decide to sit, I’m going to sit.”

Last year Abdul-Rauf told the website The Undefeated that he views the American flag as a symbol of oppression and racism. He has been silently protesting oppression and racism for more than 20 years.

“I hold true to it,” he said last week.

All Americans have a right, if not obligation, to draw attention to perceived wrongs, he said.

“If you feel there’s something wrong and you want to change it, whether you’re an athlete, whether you’re a doctor, whether you’re a garbage man, we all have been given a voice by God, and we have a right to voice our concerns,” he said.

Reasonable people can disagree on how best to voice concerns, he said. Each person must decide a course of action.

“Whatever it is, you have to live with those consequences,” he said.

Abdul-Rauf has. His quiet protests sparked death threats, the burning to the ground of a 2,800-square-foot home in Mississippi and, he believes, being weeded out of the NBA and thus losing several prime years of a pro career.

Effectively banned from the NBA at age 29, Abdul-Rauf then played in Turkey, Russia, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Japan before retiring in 2011.

The irony of a country that celebrates freedom punishing non-conformity is not lost on Abdul-Rauf. He has no regrets.

“I don’t want to be on the side of history that when history is written, it says he didn’t really stand for anything,” he said. “He didn’t have a voice.”

This echoed what he told The Undefeated last year. “It’s priceless to know that I can go to sleep knowing that I stood to my principles,” he said then. “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.”

Of course, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has more recently drawn the ire of some fans for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. He might be getting weeded out of the NFL.

Abdul-Rauf has not met Kaepernick, but supports his protest.

“I’m for anybody who wants to bring about a change for the better in society, period,” he said.

Out of this world

Andy Borman, who coached Hamidou Diallo on the New York Rens, has a last name that prompts a question: Could he be related to former astronaut Frank Borman?

“That’s my grandfather,” he said.

Wow! The elder Borman commanded Apollo 8, the first manned flight to orbit the moon. In one of NASA’s most iconic moments, he read from Genesis (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth . …”) during a telecast as he and fellow astronauts Jim Lovell and Bill Anders) circled the moon.

It only added to the majesty of the moment in 1968 that the telecast was on Christmas Eve.

His grandfather’s place in the U.S. space race against the Soviets only comes up in conversation “a little here and there,” the younger Borman said. “To me, I call him Paw Paw.”

Rather than relive his glory days, Paw Paw is more likely to recommend books for his grandson to read. Then the two discuss.

The younger Borman, once a walk-on player at Duke, said he rarely gets asked if he’s related to Frank Borman. “From various phone calls or meetings or emails, one out of every 100,” he said. “It’s cooler the older you get to really appreciate his legacy.”

Fictional character?

UK graduate and fan John Wolff likened Hamidou Diallo to a fictional character created by the late George Plimpton.

Plimpton wrote about Sidd Finch, a baseball phenomenon who supposedly threw unbelievably fast pitches (168 mph). The key word is “unbelievable.” Plimpton made up the whole story, including how Finch was raised in an orphanage in England and learned yoga in Tibet. This was for a long ago April 1st edition of Sports Illustrated.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” Wolff asked in a phone voice mail message. “The spirit of George Plimpton is alive and well in Diallo.”

Wolff was making a playful point about Diallo generating breathless news coverage leading up to and including his one semester on the Kentucky team. Diallo, who never played in a game, participated in last week’s NBA Combine as part of his decision whether to stay in this year’s draft. He has not hired an agent, so he may choose to return to UK and play next season.

In a follow-up telephone conversation, Wolff explained the Diallo-Finch comparison.

“Our guy Hamidou is almost like that,” Wolff said with a chuckle. “I guess he exists.”

Wolff grew up in New York City, and came to Kentucky in 1964. He holds master’s and doctorate degrees from UK.

Condolences

To the family of Solly Walker, who died in late April at age 85.

According to an obituary in The New York Times, Walker was twice a pioneer in basketball race relations. He was the first black to play for St. John’s. And, in 1951, he became the first black to play against Kentucky at UK.

Reportedly, Adolph Rupp initially resisted letting Walker play.

“You can’t bring that boy down here to Lexington,” he said, as quoted by Dave Anderson in a column that ran in The New York Times in 1994.

“Then cancel the game,” St. John’s Coach Frank McGuire said.

Rupp yielded. Walker played. UK won 81-40. Walker made six of seven shots before leaving the game because of injury.

In the book “100 Years of St. John’s Basketball,” Walker said the experience at Kentucky made him “uncomfortable.”

UK and St. John’s played in the NCAA Tournament the next spring. St. John’s won 64-57.

Happy birthday

To Keith Bogans. He turned 37 on Friday. … To Kevin Grevey. He turned 64 on Friday. … To former Missouri Coach Kim Anderson. He turned 62 on Friday. … To Merion Haskins. He turned 62 on Saturday. … To former Tennessee Coach Buzz Peterson. He turns 54 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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