12.13.2005

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.

19 Comments:

At 12/13/2005 10:31 AM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

Don't worry about watching him play. You're not missing much. Just think, you know how in many aspects Rasheed Wallace's offensive game is soft but because Sheed is who he is it makes those aspects hard anyway, well Reef has those aspects of Sheed's offensive game but softer. He's the only player in the history of the NBA Live franchise that I think they got right completely. He kills 15'ers but at 6'10" and 250-ish he can't convert in the lane. I can’t remember him ever producing an and 1 after being fouled. He's also a floor-boards hawk like Neek. I think he may have been the only player in the League to ever average 10 boards for a season without ever leaving the ground.

I think we all know the cause of his losing was. Athletic success isn't based on talent, strategy, or team cohesiveness. It's all based on worshipping the right G-D and worshipping the hardest. If Reef wants to win, he better re-evaluate his belief.

 
At 12/13/2005 10:33 AM, Blogger El Huracan Andreo said...

As the Brand post below indicated, Pre-Draft moments always signify something for me about a player that I keep with them even years after they've been in the NBA.

With Shareef, it was how he opened up the floodgates as he announced he was leaving college for the NBA.

Maybe that hurricane of tears turned him into a mercenary, leaving his heart and love for the game at Cal.

 
At 12/13/2005 10:36 AM, Blogger OG said...

rumor was back at cal that they actually started an islamic studies program to get the guy to come, but if that was the case, we see how much he took advantage. ungrateful fuck. looking back on it, it’s hard to imagine that the administration would buckle like that when it took full scale protests to make similar changes in ethnic studies, but nonetheless – that’s what i heard.

the real travesty in all this is that, if not for all the early departures, we could have had reef, kidd and lamond murray on the same squad. but hey, at least we won the nit with eddie gray in 99, yah-ee-yeah!!!

 
At 12/13/2005 11:37 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

if anyone wanted to actually take issue with us, now would be a good time, considering our last two posts have said, in reverse order:

"eastern europeans should be tough because they're war criminals"

and

"islam is a religion of kindly wusses"

and people say we aren't sportstalk material. . .

 
At 12/13/2005 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to perpetuate your newly minted stereotypes ('fore you get 'em out to the masses), but i feel I ought to say something... being a 'Beast from the East' myself (born/raised in Poland... it's no Latvia, but we gave you Lampe!), and I have participated in some criminal acts (does a Tom Brady-sized appetite for the Internet count?) I have to say E-Euros are a dirty bunch. Much of our country is still rooted in a share'all mentality, but the new capitalism installed by our wesern saviours/overlords has brought out the 'paper criminal' in many of my countrymen. Still 'war crimes' occur regularily...

Since there are no current wars in Eastern Europe, we only help and participate in the war crimes of other more 'important' states... namely the state of style (as you can appreciate Maciej joins Darko in his iconic quest), and of course housing US 'Terror Suspects' in our secret detention centres...

 
At 12/13/2005 3:17 PM, Anonymous Sasha Vujacic said...

Does a coy passive affirmation that you look at naughty content online constitute criminality? It all comes down to the circumstances...

By the way, you guys will have a hard time creating controversy in America by criticising Islam and Eastern Europe. If you're not careful, you might get a check from some opportunistic neocon looking to garner votes (ala Armstrong Williams)from NBA fans with an appreciation for aesthetics.

 
At 12/13/2005 3:34 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the other day at work i tried to convince some people that americans thought of eastern europe as third world. or was that on here? in any case, given that most americans know the balkans only as a place where massacre, ethnic strife, and destruction went down, and are becoming dimly aware that there might some islamic extremists hanging out somewhere in the area, i sorely believe that the only thing keeping the more "obscure" e. european countries from third world status is the fact that the citizens by and large look white. i do think, though, that given the long tradition of polish jokes and bears fans in america, it gets a pass.

 
At 12/13/2005 4:19 PM, Anonymous TZ said...

Just to get back to Reef a little bit, the Recluse hit the nail on the head about dude's passivity. He's got game - you don't score 19 a night in the NBA without it, even if you're on a subpar team. But he's not a leader in any form.

The guy's a man of gold off the court - I mean, he went so far as to have his ink removed. He wouldn't pose shirtless for a feature on his faith in the Sac Bee earlier this year but the tatoo scars embarass him - he's embarassed he tried to be something he's not when he first came into the league.

I think he's resurrected his psyche in Sactown, even if the team isn't a title contender. Portland wasn't his fault - everyone who was watching knew the end was nigh up there. And his two prior clubs were just up and down awful.

Right now, Reef is a thrifty man's Webb. Less range, less leadership ability, less fire. But two good knees and a very palatable contract.

 
At 12/13/2005 6:28 PM, Blogger BenSchwarmer said...

As a (and one of the only?) Left-coaster here, I can tell you all about the debate around Portland regarding SAR. Once he proved his game wholly incompatible with the 3 position, the question became, keep SAR or Zach. The only compelling arguments for SAR came from his off-court "abilities" and even the most ardent SAR supporters admitted his game wasn't comparable to Zach. Admittedly, this discussion came after maxing out Randolph, so the Portland franchise was somewhat committed to him, but I recall an interview where SAR said that his defensive "strategy" was to let people by him, so that Theo could get a block. He has a dependable jumper, doesn't play D, doesn't bang, and passes about as skillfully as Robert Traylor. Great guy, all-star in the stat line alone.

 
At 12/14/2005 8:05 AM, Anonymous Uzair said...

Do NOT condemn SAR because of the way the Queens are playing. That roster was custom-built around a couple of very unique players, Divac and Webber, who made things tick. Both of them are gone, and everyone's shortcomings are exposed -- Bibby's an up-and-down player who isn't getting as many picks as he needs, Peja's a whiny bitch who's completely given up his manic shooting practices, Bonzi's....Bonzi's a weird one.

I can stomach someone saying SAR has a problem communicating with his teammates because of his faith (you know, no women, no drinking, definitely no weed), but surely that's a two-way street.

 
At 12/14/2005 9:23 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

i'm not condemning SAR, i'm just trying to figure out why his teams always seem to suck. i never meant to suggest that he didn't get along with his teammates. anyway, muslims can't drink, but they can have women and smoke weed, for sure. at least the muslims i've known.

 
At 12/14/2005 9:52 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i think what might be coming up here is the age-old question that, for obvious reasons, no one wants to talk about in the media: is true, heartfelt faith (no doubt SAR's qualifies as that) somehow incompatible with the all-important "killer instinct" in sports? i don't want this to turn into comparative religion, much less my personal feelings on which ones i like better than others. but if SAR does have problems truly finding his groove on the court, or fitting into the athletic environment, what does that say about the ear-splitting religosity of so much of football? if this requires me questioning the faith of the crusaders, i will do just that. the ones from the days of yore, not the smooth jazz pioneers.

CAVEAT: IF YOU THINK I AM COMPLETELY SERIOUS ABOUT THIS STATEMENT, YOU MIGHT AS WELL DELETE FREEDARKO FROM YOUR BOOKMARKS. BUT IF YOU WON'T ADMIT THAT THERE'S SOMETHING TO WHAT I'M SAYING HERE, YOU ALSO MIGHT WANT TO STOP WASTING YOUR TIME READING OUR ONE THOUSAND WORD-A-DAY RANTS

 
At 12/14/2005 12:16 PM, Anonymous TZ said...

I don't know, Shoals. What about Dwight Howard, a man of enormous faith? He hasn't really played in any big games yet, so we can't judge his "killer instinct." But it'll be something to watch, given your hypothesis.

Truth be told, Reef hasn't played in a lot of big games either. His teams have never been on the cusp of the playoffs, he's never had to fight for .500 like he will this season. And this season? According to 82games, he's throwing out a .571 FG% in clutch play before last night. Last night? He scored nine points in the last six minutes against a great defense, including a three. He's been stones so far, even while maintaining his deep faith.

I definitely think is a good discussion, because people always try to hypothesize about what makes a great player. I've never seen faith brought into the equation, but it certainly deserves mention.

 
At 12/14/2005 1:10 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

all right, let's look at the key players for the nba champs for the past 10 years:

duncan - probably more evil than we realize

pistons - no players stand out, it was all about team, so they don't count

kobe - sociopath

shaq - anyone that huge should win championships regardless of killer instinct or religiosity

jordan - womanizer, gambler

 
At 12/14/2005 2:39 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

hakeem?

 
At 12/14/2005 5:00 PM, Anonymous Uzair said...

The Admiral? 'nuff said.

Actually, Shoals' comment isn't too far off -- if you're that involved in your faith, I imagine you're motivated by the promise of the after-life, not gold-plated trophies and groupies.

Recluse, I'm talking real Muslims, not the NoI kind -- no weed (no intoxicants, actually) and no women outside wedlock.

 
At 12/14/2005 7:32 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

the admiral was not the best player on those teams. he never won without duncan, but duncan won without him. hakeem is the obvious exception, but i'm prepared to make a rule that excludes centers from the debate.

i was talking about real muslims, too. i'm pretty sure muslims can smoke weed or at least tobacco, which is also an intoxicant.

 
At 12/14/2005 7:46 PM, Anonymous 412hater215 said...

Let me just start by saying that I have begrudging respect for the 10 percenters out there, but lets level here and recognize that a timely "insha-allah" is more than enough to, ilhamdeleleh, get the rock in the hole. So its gotta be something else.

p.s. 120 is the knowledge wisdom cipher, god.

 
At 12/15/2005 2:07 PM, Anonymous Jacob said...

I had season tix to Shareef's season at Cal. We didn't have a coach that year (Todd Bozeman), so we learned a lot about the players. Reef (I haven't seen him play since then, either) was one of those big guys who falls in love with playing smooth, with his handles, and with his outside game--we all fell in love with it, too. And he's great at those things, but putting him in at the 4 means you don't have anyone who's willing to bang. Duncan is an unfair comparison, but he can dribble through his legs and use the backboard and everything else, and he can also get on the block, knock dudes around and be a general menace.

 

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