Shareef Abdur-Rahim made it look easy from the start.
Abdur-Rahim, being honored Thursday night as Cal’s 2020 recipient of the Pete Newell Lifetime Achievement Award, was just getting that basketball life started in Berkeley back on Nov. 25, 1995.
The Bears opened their season at home against Northern Arizona, and Abdur-Rahim revealed himself to be the most ready-made freshman scorer ever to play for Cal.
The 6-foot-9 forward from Marietta, GA, scored 33 points in 32 minutes in his debut. He made 12 of 16 shots from the field, 9 of 11 free throws, grabbed 9 rebounds and blocked 5 shots. Cal won 111-83.
Four days later I followed the Bears to Houston to cover Game 2 of their season against Texas Southern. This time, Abdur-Rahim scored 29 points in 27 minutes to spark a 112-73 victory. He shot 11 for 15 from the floor.
Back in the Bay Area to face USF on Dec. 3 at the Cow Palace, Abdur-Rahim posted 32 points on 11 for 15 from the field, and 8 for 10 at the foul line. Cal prevailed 83-70.
Through his first three college games, in three different buildings in a span of eight days, Abdur-Rahim averaged 31.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots while shooting even better from the field (74 percent) than from the free throw line (73 percent).
Abdur-Rahim talks in the video above about receiving the Pete Newell Lifetime Achievement Award.
As great a start as that was, Abdur-Rahim, now 43, was honored by Cal on Thursday night for his lifetime body of work.
After averaging 21.1 points and 8.4 rebounds in 1995-96 to win both Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year — the only player ever to achieve that — Abdur-Rahim made the obvious move. He entered the NBA draft, where he was picked No. 3 overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies.
(Of course, Cal fans can always play the tantalizing What-If game: Had Abdur-Rahim returned for his sophomore season, the Bears under first-year coach Ben Braun might have become Final Four material. Even without him, they were 23-9, and upset Villanova in the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to 63-57 in the Sweet 16 to a North Carolina team featuring Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter. The Bears by then were without Pac-10 scoring leader Ed Gray, who broke his foot late in the season while posting a school-record 48 points at Washington State. But Cal had a deep veteran roster that included Randy Duck, Tony Gonzalez, Al Grigsby, Prentice McGruder, Sean Marks, Michael Stewart and Anwar McQueen. OK . . . back to reality).
Abdur-Rahim explains in the video above why returning to school to complete his Cal degree was important to him.
Abdur-Rahim had a consistently productive NBA career, averaging 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds, and topping 20 points per game in six of his 12 seasons. He was an Olympian in 2000, an All-Star in 2002. He averaged 20 and 10 in his fourth season and scored 50 points for the Atlanta Hawks against the Detroit Pistons in 2001.
But Abdur-Rahim, who retired after the 2007-08 season, eventually made it back to Cal. He earned his degree in sociology in 2012 — more than 16 years after he first stepped foot on campus. Later he added an MBA from USC.
Pete Newell Jr., whose father led Cal to the 1959 national championship and a return trip to the Final Four in 1960, said his dad would appreciate that most about Abdur-Rahim.
"I think the most impressive thing about Shareef is that he returned to Cal to get his degree," he told Cal. "If my father were still alive, I truly believe he would say the same thing. "Dad always valued the Cal education.”
The Newell Award is given annually to a Cal alumnus who has “distinguished himself in his career accomplishments, upholding the highest ideals of Newell and the University of California.”
After his playing career ended, Abdur-Rahim spent five years as the Sacramento Kings’ assistant general manager and assistant coach. He also served as the general manager of the NBA G League's Reno Bighorns.
Abdur-Rahim moved on to become the NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations, and since 2018 has held the position of president of the G League.