Islamic Man of Mystery
I used to work with this kid Alan who rocked those Bike gym teacher shorts and Rec Specs when he hooped, but despite his (intentional?) style deficiencies, he could actually play a little. If El Huracan forced me to assign him an NBA play-alike, I would have to go with John Stockton. He was a laid back cat off the court, but when he stepped between the lines, he was so focused and wouldn't hesitate to get a little dirty when the situation called for it. Alan eventually left to go to law school in Vancouver (from North Carolina!), where he would periodically report back on the progress of the upstart Griz. He sang the praises of the unlucky and enigmatic Michael Dickerson, whom he called one of the most underrated players in the league, but he hated him some Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Said he wasn't a team player, he was a black hole on offense, wouldn't play defense.
Those reports were so interesting in part because I never got to see Abdur-Rahim play. Being on the East Coast, the games during his one year at Cal were rarely broadcast, and he's spent most of his pro career stuck on terrible teams that never get on TV. And I mean terrible. The most games a Reef team ever won was 35 games in Atlanta in 02-03. What's really telling is that he seems to make teams worse. The Griz somehow managed one less victory during his rookie year than the year before, their first year in the league. How is that even possible? And Portland went from a solid playoff team to one of the worst teams in the league shortly after his arrival. This season, his first with the Kings, they have gone from one of the premier franchises of the past half-decade to last place in the Pacific Division. Granted, there were injuries, bad personnel moves, and bad coaching involved in all three places, but surely some of this has to rest on Abdur-Rahim's shoulders?
On paper (and that's all I have to go on), it appears to be another case of a selfish player going for dolo on the court, and fuck the team. There may be no "I" in "team," but there is an "m" and an "e." But, what keeps me from painting Reef with that brush (aside from the fact that, you know, I haven't actually seen him play) is that such an attitude seems so inconsistent with his off-court persona. Again, I don't know much about the guy--he's got to be the most anonymous 20 point scorer in my lifetime--but all reports indicate he's a humble, generous person. He does a lot of charity work, and the Sporting News named him one of the "Good Guys" in sports.
In scanning a few articles about Reef, I found that his humility and generosity are mostly attributed to his Islamic upbringing. Reef's pops is an Imam, who took a similar path to Malcolm, joining the Nation as a young man and eventually finding his way to true Islam. That makes Reef unique among black, Muslim (as opposed to Black Muslim) professional athletes, since unlike Muhammed Ali or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Reef didn't convert, he was raised that way. Perhaps that explains his quiet, reserved nature and also the surprising lack of political statements coming from his camp. I found articles about Reef fasting during Ramadan, but nothing about his views on the clusterfuck going on in Iraq. He just wants to play ball and praise Allah.
But, none of this does much to explain why his teams always seem to suck so much. I guess you could make the argument that he's so humble he lacks the heart and killer instinct of truly great players. Or you could say that a player's deeds off the court have little to do with what he does in a game. Just because a guy passes out toys doesn't mean he passes the ball. Or maybe I need to actually watch him play some time.