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Jackie MacMullan
January 17, 2000
Faith and Hope Shareef Abdur-Rahim is doubly devoted—to Islam and the Grizzlies
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January 17, 2000

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Faith and Hope
Shareef Abdur-Rahim is doubly devoted—to Islam and the Grizzlies

Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim set the alarm clock for 5:30 in the morning. His cereal and the milk to go with it were laid out by his bedside. So was a big bottle of Evian water that he would dutifully guzzle down, even if he wasn't thirsty, when the alarm woke him before daybreak.

Abdur-Rahim is a Muslim, and from Dec. 9 through Jan. 7 he and 1.3 billion other Muslims around the world observed Ramadan, the most sacred month on the Islamic calendar, during which they cannot eat or drink from dawn to sunset. So Abdur-Rahim would eat his breakfast by the glow of a bedside lamp, hydrate, then try to snatch a couple more hours of shut-eye.

The month of fasting is a grueling stretch each year for Abdur-Rahim, who must abstain from taking a sip of water, even if his coach is running him through full-court wind sprints. It's particularly tough during day games, which he has to play on an empty stomach. "If we have one, I remind the guys, 'Don't ask me if I want water,' " says Abdur-Rahim. "If they don't say anything, I'm not thinking about it. But if they wave it in front of me, I might want to take a sip."

He did take a sip—once—in the middle of a high school game. Someone handed him a bottle; he was thirsty, and he forgot. It gnawed at him for days. "The reason I do this is to sacrifice for God," says Abdur-Rahim of his month of self-denial. "If I do it for Him, then I know He's with me. That's faith."

It takes faith to pledge one's allegiance to the Grizzlies, as Abdur-Rahim has for 3� seasons, a stretch during which the team had a 50-197 record at week's end. He could have tested the free-agent market last summer had he not re-upped with Vancouver in 1998 for seven years and $71 million. He says he has no regrets. "If by the time I'm done playing we've turned this into a respected franchise," says Abdur-Rahim, "that's a far bigger accomplishment than going to a team that's already winning and helping them win some more."

Abdur-Rahim has paid a price for being in Vancouver. He has blossomed in obscurity, becoming the best player you've never seen. Through Sunday he was averaging 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds this season. Slap a Knicks jersey on him and he'd be an All-Star, a serious candidate for the 2000 Olympics, a household name.

"Sure, they'd know him if he were a Knick, but I doubt he'd be playing anywhere near the minutes he has with us" says Grizzlies interim coach Lionel Hollins. "Shareef was a center in high school, a post-up player in college, then got to the pros and had to learn how to face up, shoot the ball consistently, make passes and create for others. He's had the furthest to go of any of the top picks in the last four years."

Abdur-Rahim admits he has Olympic dreams and held out a glimmer of hope mat USA Basketball would pick him for the Sydney Games. It didn't, but he's content to wait his turn. "No one can really complain about who they chose," he says. "It's not like when they left Isiah [Thomas] off in '92.1 remember that. They put John Stockton on the team, and the next time those two guys played each other, Isiah torched Stockton."

Abdur-Rahim was 16 in 1992. He studied point guards then, just as he watches Jason Kidd and Gary Payton now. They are complete players who see the floor as he would like to see it one day. For now he relies on an arsenal that is impressive and expanding. His artful moves around the rim have elicited comparisons to George Gervin's. His post game is fluid and surprisingly strong for someone with so lean a body. He gets to the line, is polite to officials and is sometimes dismissed as too sweet to lead a team. "You know what?" he says. "I'm not as nice as people think."

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