Shareef Abdur-Rahim is quiet by nature. But last July, when the Grizzlies sent him to his hometown team, the Hawks, in a multiplayer deal for the rights to rookie Pau Gasol, he resolved to become a vocal leader. "I'm the kind of person who looks at himself and asks, What could I have done better?" says Abdur-Rahim, 25, who grew up in suburban Marietta.
His first project in Atlanta was to seek out 21-year-old guard DerMarr Johnson, who had endured a frustrating rookie season. "We had mutual friends who asked that I look out for him," says Abdur-Rahim, who had his locker moved next to Johnson's. After their first workout last summer, Johnson was on his way to a fast-food lunch when Abdur-Rahim headed him off. He brought Johnson home to eat and began to teach him about a proper diet. The 6'9" Johnson was averaging 9.4 points in 37 starts at week's end, offering hope that he'll develop into the spectacular slasher the Hawks envisioned when they picked him sixth out of Cincinnati.
Abdur-Rahim attributes his maturity to his upbringing and to his devotion to Islam. After Sept. 11 he established a relief agency for families victimized by the attacks, Rebound America, to which he will contribute $100 for each of his boards this season ($62,700 through Sunday). To Abdur-Rahim, the terrorists had nothing in common with Islam. "The media puts out a misperception by calling them Muslim terrorists," he says. "They weren't Muslim terrorists any more than Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist. They were misguided people."
The 6'9" Abdur-Rahim doesn't have the hops of many of the league's young stars, but he can run the break, shoot the three and finish in the paint. As important as Abdur-Rahim's team-leading 21.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, says coach Lon Kruger, is that he practiced and played for five weeks despite a painful hip bruise. "Other guys might not have, especially in a losing situation like ours," says Kruger, who credits Abdur-Rahim's leadership for the team's winning record (13-11) since the All-Star break.
Abdur-Rahim has won an Olympic gold medal and been named an All-Star. Next season he hopes to make his postseason debut alongside point guard Jason Terry and center Theo Ratliff, who is expected to fully recover from a right hip sprain that limited him to three games this season. Who knows—the rumors that the Hawks will bring in Jerry West as G.M. might even prove true. (Team president Stan Kasten declined to comment on West.) If Abdur-Rahim can lead the Hawks back to respectability, Atlanta fans should take pride in him as a local kid made good. "He's been an All-Star on the court," says Kasten, "and a Hall of Famer off it."
Play of the Week
One for the Aged
On March 26 John Stockton turned 40. Not only did he become the 10th player to appear in the league at that age, but he also scored 20 points, handed out six assists and scored the go-ahead layup with 4:21 left as the Jazz recovered from a 15-point third-quarter deficit to beat the visiting Rockets 109-105. Among the refs working the game was former NJBA point guard Leon Wood, who in 1984 was drafted No. 10, six spots ahead of Stockton.