“He was one of the greatest.” – Shaquille O’Neal
It has been called the greatest college basketball game ever played.
On February 3, 1990, on CBS, the LSU Tigers hosted the high-flying Lions of Loyola Marymount University.
LSU won in overtime, 148-141, in a game loaded with future NBA first-round picks.
In this game, the Tigers had twin seven footers in Stanley Roberts (21 points and 12 rebounds) and seventeen-year-old freshman Shaquille O’Neal who posted a triple double (20 points, 24 rebounds and 12 blocks).
Loyola Marymount had their own power couple in Hank Gathers (48 and 13 who led the nation in scoring and rebounding the previous year) and Bo Kimble, the nation’s leading scorer, who tallied 32 and 11.
And the smallest man on the court, 6-1, 165-pound sophomore Chris Jackson dropped 34 points with nine assists.
“He was about as smooth as they come,” recalled James Brown of The NFL Today, who called the game for CBS Sports along with broadcast partner Quinn Buckner. “[Jackson] could pack that ball and create his own score, and nothing phased him. I was impressed just how unphased and poised he was on the basketball court.
“Nothing got to this kid. The man had a game and a half. Period.”
Four of those talented players would become NBA first-round draft choices.
Jackson and Kimble would go in the first round of the 1990 Draft while Roberts was a first rounder in 1991. O’Neal went first overall in the 1992 Draft.
Sadly, Gathers would have gone in the first round had he not died one month and a day later after the LSU game from a heart condition.
Of all those players who starred in the NBA or didn’t, the case of Chris Jackson, who would embrace Islam and change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and become a sports lightening rod, his story is the most haunting.
“Looked like I was watching God play basketball.” — Shaq
Abdul-Rauf’s troubled life is chronicled in “Stand,” Showtime’s documentary airing Friday, Feb. 3 at 9 pm and directed by Joslyn Rose Lyons.
Born into poverty in Gulfport, MS, his life was turbulent to say the least.
He went through the angst of watching the Ku Klux Klan march in his hometown; having been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; never knowing who his father was (even though his two other brothers knew who their fathers were); joining the Muslim religion; refusing to stand for the national anthem; being blackballed from the NBA; and observing his six-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion burnt to the ground by the Mississippi KKK.
“I’m watching the news and I’m watching my house in flames.” – April Dotson, Abdul-Rauf’s ex-wife
Through it all, Abdul-Rauf comes across without bitterness. Kind of.
“I’m still bitter over some things,” he admitted, adding, “as long as I feel things haven’t been made right, I’m going to be bitter about that whatever that is. However, it doesn’t paralyze me.”
Plus, there is a maturing process as one ages.
“I’m wiser. I’m more patient. I’m more methodical with how I respond to things,” he stated. “I have no problem understanding that there are things in life that you have to let go and move on.
“You don’t want to be at 53 what you were at 20. Something’s wrong,” added the now 53-year old Abdul-Rauf with a deep chuckle.
When you think of all the athletes who have ruffled America’s feathers with protests, you think most recently of San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and injustice to Black Americans in 2016.
But before him was the Black power salute of Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics to protest US injustice, and everyone remembers when the heavyweight champ of the world, Muhammad Ali, refused induction into the US Army in 1967 to protest the Vietnam War.
Then there is the forgotten Abdul-Rauf.
“One of the greatest players in the history of the NBA was cheated out of his career.” – Dale Brown, LSU head basketball coach
Abdul-Rauf has no regrets, because he believes in standing up when others won’t.
There is a section in “Stand” when veteran sports journalist David Aldridge, formerly of ESPN and TNT and a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, mentions how people lose their minds when athletes kneel during the anthem.
Aldridge wonders if anyone knows about the third stanza of the anthem especially lines five and six which read:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
Abdul-Rauf is appreciative of what he pointed out, noting when some people get on camera, “they don’t want to say certain things.”
The documentary has an all-star lineup of talking heads on everything Abdul-Rauf.
There’s Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr, Jalen Rose, Ice Cube and two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali who played college ball at St. Mary’s College of (Moraga) California. There’s even old footage of Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman.
“He was Steph Curry before Steph Curry. He was just lethal from everywhere.” – Mahershala Ali
Abdul-Rauf had a Steph Curry quality about his game. Neither is all that tall, both slender in build, but both lights out from way downtown.
“I had no chance against Mahmoud. He was one of the difficult guys in the league to guard.” – Steve Kerr
When you watch “Stand,” and see his basketball footage of his range and ankle breaking first move, you have to put him into that best small guard category which includes Isiah Thomas, Tiny Archibald and Calvin Murphy.
“As good as Pete Maravich was, Abdul-Rauf’s game was one that involved all the other players,” noted Brown.
“Who’s this guy torching the Lakers?” – Ice Cube, Big3 Founder
Today, Abdul-Rauf is still quick on the court, but in Cube’s Big3 three-on-three, half-court basketball tourney. He gets to show what he’s got against former NBA players who are still younger than him.
“Every time I see Ice Cube,” he declared, “I’m always thanking him because it allows younger generations to see us.”
He’s already played five years in the league and is praying for another for this hard-playing elder who sees a future for himself in the league.
“I’m hoping to get into the coaching aspect of the Big3,” he said. “Some of us are still competitive and still move.”
He must be talking about himself.
His love of the game never ceased even with all the distractions.
After his protest while playing for the Denver Nuggets, he was suspended (1996), reinstated with rules, traded to Sacramento, played one more year in the NBA with Vancouver and then became a basketball nomad playing in Russia, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
“We should have had his back and we didn’t.” – Jalen Rose
“Everybody owes him and apology.” – David Aldridge
All throughout “Stand” and during a Zoom interview, you see and feel a calmness about Abdul-Rauf which may stem from his name change.
Mahmoud means elegant and praise worthy and Abdul-Rauf, servant of Rauf the most kind.
He still has Tourette Syndrome but is not on any drugs.
“Oh, I very much have it,” he declared. “I haven’t taken medication since my LSU years.
“I just decided I’m just going to pray, try to eat right [he tries to go light on peanuts], get proper rest and exercise. I learned to camouflage certain situations.”
And he has a message for those who care to watch “Stand.”
“I just want to share my story,” he stated, “because we’re living in an age now where you have so many youth thinking about killing themselves.”
He resides outside of Atlanta, instructs young and NBA players, gives lectures and talks about his life.
And with his story comes responsibility.
Charles Barkley infamously said, “I am not a role model.”
Abdul-Rauf can understand his statement but disagrees.
“Once we wake up we have a responsibility to hopefully present ourselves in the best light,” explained the soon to be remarried father of five. “People are going to look and listen to you. They’re either going to get good or bad advice from you.
“We are all role models to some degree.”