Near the Grizzlies' bench at General Motors Place in Vancouver,
rookie power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim fidgets. He has stood
patiently through The Star-Spangled Banner, but now O Canada! is
about to begin and he tugs at his sweatpants, too antsy to bear
another note. For though he has a three-year, $6.3 million
contract and a 6'9" frame--which snaps to attention just in time
for the second anthem--Abdur-Rahim is barely a month past his
teens, only 40 games removed from high school and the tattered
hightops he paid for by mowing lawns. And so he fidgets like a
kid, bouncing in place, eager to play ball.
Once the game tips off, however, there's nothing remotely
childlike about Abdur-Rahim. The third pick in the draft after
his freshman season at Cal, he averaged 18.9 points and 7.9
rebounds in December to share NBA Rookie of the Month honors
with Nets guard Kerry Kittles. That was the first league-wide
award ever won by a member of the two-year-old Grizzlies, and it
was no fluke: The player nicknamed "the Future" at Wheeler High
in Marietta, Ga., poured in 34 points at Golden State on Jan. 8
and then went for a franchise-record 37 against Sacramento three
"Shareef is going to be a freak in the NBA," says Vancouver
assistant coach Lionel Hollins. "He'll make a move on the
baseline to beat a defender and we'll just look at each other
and shake our heads, my gosh." Adds Dallas assistant coach Lanny
Van Eman, "I've seen him three times this year, and each time,
Off the court Abdur-Rahim's age does occasionally show. During
two-a-day practices in September, he missed a hotel shuttle
because he stayed late to shoot jumpers, then was found several
hours later dozing on the trainer's table. He bought video games
before purchasing all his furniture. And each night, he eagerly
puts on a sparkling new pair of sneakers to, he says, "make up
for lost time."
A Muslim, Abdur-Rahim prays five times a day, using a compass to
locate Mecca. His faith has given him an inner peace and an
outward dignity. During the month of Ramadan, which started on
Jan. 10, adult Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. "It is not
compulsory for children to fast," says Shareef's father,
William, who is a prayer leader at Masjid Al-Muminum (Mosque of
the Believers) in Atlanta. "But to give you an idea of the kind
of person Shareef is, he asked to join in the fasting when he
was six. Now he looks forward to it, like an old friend coming
Indeed, it is during Ramadan that Abdur-Rahim has played his
best. Twice he guided Wheeler High to the Class AAAA finals and
earned Mr. Basketball honors even though he fasted in midseason.
In his one year at Cal--where he averaged 21.1 points and 8.4
boards to become the first freshman recipient of the Pac-10
Player of the Year award--Abdur-Rahim's stats rose when his
daytime dining ceased. And this year, the end of Ramadan will
coincide with his appearance in the rookie game during the NBA's
All-Star weekend in Cleveland.
It was just after his first fast that Abdur-Rahim found a flyer
at school for a recreational basketball league. He carried it
around in his back pocket all day, checking periodically to make
sure he hadn't lost it, and then raced home to beg his father to
sign him up. "I'm still like that with basketball," Shareef
says, "like that kid shooting baskets by himself at midnight,
simply for the love of the game. Basketball has done so much for
me that I don't want to corrupt that love by playing for the
money, the fame or the hype."
Vancouver drafted him as a small forward but quickly learned
that he lacked the outside touch needed to man the 3 spot. One
week into his pro career, Abdur-Rahim's other shooting
problem--firing away at will--forced coach Brian Winters to
remove him from the starting lineup for nine games. "It takes
all young guys a while to get acclimated to the league," says
Winters. "Shareef is extremely mature off the court, and he has
realized that in the NBA the sign of maturity on the court is
Seeing Abdur-Rahim struggle, team president Stu Jackson
announced that every staff member would have to contribute to
helping the Future. Jackson counseled him over lunch each week
and invited him into his home. Veteran guard Blue Edwards
provided pep talks and strategic reminders on the court. And
Hollins sharpened his long-range shooting, stretching a rubber
band between Abdur-Rahim's thumb and pinkie to help get the ball
out of his palm and onto the tips of his fingers. "We're a good
match," says Jackson. "Shareef and the team can grow together."
They will share the growing pains as well; through Sunday,
Vancouver was a grisly 8-32. The losing has been hard on
Abdur-Rahim both physically (he is working on bulking up his
slender 230-pound frame) and mentally. Should Vancouver still be
a laughingstock in 1999, he says he is not sure that he'll stick
But if he does stay, he will become that rarity in Canada: a
sports superstar who still has all his front teeth. "What
Shareef has yet to decide is, does he want to be just another
good player or does he want to be the cornerstone of a
franchise?" says Edwards. "Does he want to make it so that in 25
years, when you think of the Grizzlies, you think of Shareef
Abdur-Rahim? In other words: Does the kid want to be special?"
FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 13-19
The one-game suspension Portland gave forward Cliff Robinson for
cursing at coach P.J. Carlesimo lit a fire under the
temperamental Trail Blazers. They hammered Detroit at home on
Jan. 14 despite Robinson's absence, then beat the Lakers in L.A.
two nights later. After a home loss to Toronto, they downed Utah
in Portland on Sunday.
Despite a 16-game home winning streak, the longest such run in
1996-97, Atlanta has sold out only six times at The Omni. The
Hawks are averaging just 12,576 fans, third fewest in the league
(behind the Clippers and the Nuggets).
Can the Lakers continue their recent mastery of the Sonics?
Entering Sunday's showdown in Seattle, L.A. has won seven of the
teams' last 10 games. For the Sonics to prevail, center Jim
McIlvaine must slow down Shaquille O'Neal, who had 32 points, 14
rebounds and seven assists in the Lakers' 110-106 win on Dec. 3.
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR
While evaluating the league's young talent recently, Pacers
guard Reggie Miller saved his highest praise for Nets rookie
Kerry Kittles, the No. 8 pick in the '96 draft. Said Miller, "He
reminds me of myself when I was younger. He really hustles and
goes all out. He is always moving, playing hard. You have to
admire players like that." The question is, Does the rook really
hold a candle to Reggie? --D.F.
LEADS TEAM IN ...
[KITTLES] Minutes played and 3-pointers
[MILLER] Minutes played and 3-pointers
GAME HIGHS FOR OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS AND BLOCKED SHOTS
[KITTLES] 3 boards, 2 blocks
[MILLER] 3 boards, 2 blocks
1997 WINNING PERCENTAGE
[KITTLES] below .500
[MILLER] below .500
[KITTLES] Wears right sock low
[MILLER] Wears right knee sleeve low
OLYMPIC GOLDS WON BY FAMILY
[MILLER] Reggie (1996) Cheryl (1984)
WAS HE BETTER THAN CHERYL MILLER IN HER PRIME?
[MILLER] Plenty ... of reason to call the Hair Club for Men
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
[KITTLES] Won NIT, 1994
[MILLER] Won NIT, 1985
GAMES PLAYED IN COLLEGE
[KITTLES] John Wooden All-America (1994)
[MILLER] UCLA grad (1987)
COLLEGE MEDIA GUIDE
[KITTLES] Featured dunking on back cover next to "Player of the Year Candidate"
[MILLER] Featured dunking on front cover next to "Player of the Year Candidate"
PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARDS WON
"He did? How?" --Phoenix coach Danny Ainge, when told that Suns
point guard Steve Nash (4.5 points, 2.9 assists per game) had
received an invitation to play in the rookie game during