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 1/2 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
"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 that 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. I 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."
When Vancouver fired coach Brian Hill on Dec. 16, reports
surfaced that Abdur-Rahim, point guard Mike Bibby and others had
tuned Hill out, sealing his doom. That's unfair, says
Abdur-Rahim. "How can anyone say we folded on him?" he asks.
"Nobody bad-mouthed him in the papers. We were still a team. We
worked hard. I never said this situation was Brian's fault."
Abdur-Rahim loves playing for Hollins, who favors up-tempo
basketball, and will lobby to have the coach's interim tag
removed, even though Hollins doesn't run as many offensive plays
for him as Hill did. Hollins is trying to make Abdur-Rahim into a
more complete player who can elevate this franchise, which is
thirsty for even a sip of success. "I've never said, 'Why me?'"
Abdur-Rahim says of ending up with a team that has continually
struggled. "You make sacrifices in life. They make you stronger."
The Feuding Sixers
Croce to the Rescue
If you are debating who is more valuable to the 76ers, guard
Allen Iverson or coach Larry Brown, opt for answer C--team
president Pat Croce. It was Croce who mediated the most recent
dispute between the mercurial point guard and his excitable
coach, which spilled into the papers last month and had Iverson
publicly suggesting that he be traded. Sixers sources say that
Croce warned both Iverson and Brown to keep their differences
private and to stop taking each other's actions so personally.
"I'm hoping this last episode was the catalyst for them to work
this out on their own from here on in," says Croce. "In the end,
it was a misunderstanding. Larry needed to demonstrate more
respect in Allen's mind, and Allen needed to demonstrate more
respect in Larry's mind."
Looking for a translation? When Iverson gets yanked from a game
and slings an expletive in the direction of his coach, Brown
interprets that as disrespectful. (Who wouldn't?) Brown then
benches Iverson for 20 minutes without explaining why, and
Iverson feels disrespected.
The problem, according to Croce, is that Iverson and Brown are
strikingly similar. "They are both incredibly sensitive," Croce
says. "They're both stubborn. They both have a very healthy ego.
And they both jump to conclusions."
While peace has been temporarily restored, no one believes this
will be the end of the Iverson-Brown sparring match. So what
happens when Iverson finally means it when he tells Croce, "It's
me or him?"
"Hopefully I never have to answer that question," Croce says. "I
don't mind being the mediator every once in a while, but I won't
tolerate ultimatums. Like I told them this last time, 'Allen,
you're not getting traded. Larry, you're not getting fired. So be
quiet and make this work.'"
His Seizure Raises Concerns
Suns forward Tom Gugliotta was back on the court last week. He
had missed seven games due to a postgame seizure on Dec. 17 that
caused him to temporarily stop breathing and to lose
consciousness for several hours, and led to his being connected
to a respirator in a Portland hospital. Suns team doctor Richard
Emerson said that Gugliotta may have suffered an adverse reaction
to a supplement called furanone di-hydro, which Gugliotta says
was given to him by an old high school friend to help him sleep.
Furanone di-hydro, when ingested, is transformed into
gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, which is being studied by the
Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment for
narcolepsy but has also gained notoriety as a recreational and
date-rape drug. Sold under a variety of brand names (Gugliotta
has declined to name the brand he tried), supplements containing
furanone di-hydro have been marketed not only as sleeping aids
but also as sex enhancers and muscle builders that promote the
body's production of human growth hormone. These products are
sold over the Internet and at some nutritional-supplement stores.
The FDA last year asked companies that make products containing
furanone di-hydro to voluntarily recall them, saying that such
products had caused at least 19 people to become unconscious or
comatose and led to at least one death.
An informal survey by SI revealed no other player who admitted
using furanone di-hydro or GHB, but trainers and strength coaches
contend that other legal supplements are circulating that could
be dangerous if misused. Bucks trainer Mark Pfeil says some NBA
players use a Chinese herb called Mahuang. "It's supposed to give
you energy," says Pfeil. Mahuang--which can raise blood pressure
and cause seizures, strokes and heart attacks, according to the
FDA--is not regulated by the FDA because it is an herbal product.
Trail Blazers forward Brian Grant regularly buys a supplement
called Ripped Fuel, which lists Mahuang as one of its main
Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander is a proponent of certain
supplements that help protect the joints, and he doles them out
to his players in a paper cup before each game, but he takes pain
to educate players about the supplements. He says Gugliotta's
mishap has given supplements a bad rap. "It's not supplements
that are the problem," Kander says. "It's improper use of them."
The NBA and the players association employ an independent panel
of three doctors that draws up a list of banned substances each
year, but the health effects of many supplements have not been
firmly established. "You can't start banning everything you think
is bad for you," says deputy commissioner Russ Granik. "We know
cholesterol is bad, but we can't tell the panel to eliminate
The NBA will be approached this week by the Council for
Responsible Nutrition, a trade association for the
nutritional-supplement industry, whose president and CEO, John
Cordaro, has offered to meet with NBA players to educate them on
the dangers of misusing supplements. "If these supplements pose
any risk to these athletes of adverse reactions, they should know
about it ahead of time," Cordaro says.
Many teams say they have informal safeguards in place. Jazz
trainer Mike Shimensky sends any supplement brought into his
locker room to a medical lab for analysis. Nuggets strength coach
Steve Hess says he has tried a preemptive strike, providing his
players with multivitamins and minerals "so they don't go to a
[nutrition store] and say, 'What should I get?'"
Portland guard Steve Smith, who took ginseng when he was with
Atlanta, believes he has the safest plan. "After the Googs
thing," Smith says, "I'm done taking anything."
Line of the Week
The Mourning After
Miami center Alonzo Mourning, Jan. 6 versus Houston: 36 minutes,
12-of-15 FG, 4-of-6 FT, 28 points, 9 blocks, 4 rebounds. Two days
after saying he took "personal responsibility" for the Heat's
embarrassing loss to Vancouver, Mourning made sure the losing
streak stopped at one.
For the latest scores and stats, plus Phil Taylor's NBA mailbag,
go to cnnsi.com/basketball.
COLOR PHOTO: JEFF REINKING/NBA PHOTOS Abdur-Rahim, the best player you've never seen, averages 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Gugliotta won't name the brand of supplement that KO'd him, but he isn't likely to use it again.
Around The Rim
There are two reasons Bucks guard Ray Allen secured the final
spot on the Olympic team over young stars such as Kobe Bryant,
Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. The first is that USA Basketball
puts special emphasis on pure shooters, since Olympic competition
allows zone defenses. The second, according to committee sources,
is that experience in international basketball was given heavy
The Timberwolves had won 10 of 11 through Monday, and it's no
coincidence that shooting guard Malik Sealy had hit for double
figures in all 10 of those wins. Since coach Flip Saunders
inserted Sealy into the starting lineup in place of Anthony
Peeler, Sealy was shooting close to 59% from the floor, making
teams pay for doubling Kevin Garnett. The downside of the move:
Peeler's shooting woes have deepened in his new role off the
Sacramento newcomer Nick Anderson thinks he finally has a handle
on his own shooting difficulties. "In Orlando any shot I got was
[after a pass had been] kicked back out from the post or swung
to me from the perimeter," says Anderson. "In both cases I'd be
set long before I shot the ball. But in this offense we shoot so
much on the fly, I'm just now adjusting to it." Two days after
making those comments, Anderson, who made 45.4% of his shots in
10 seasons with the Magic but was hitting only 36.4% with the
Kings, nailed 4 of 4 from three-point range en route to a
season-high 25-point performance in a 116-113 victory over
Sparked last week by the return of Toni Kukoc, the Chicago Bulls
had their first three-game winning streak of the season and
their two largest scoring outbursts, 110 points against
Washington and 96 against Boston. Still, after having the
league's worst scoring average last season, Chicago trailed this
year's second-lowest scoring team, New York, by 6.7 points
through Sunday's games, a gap that if sustained would be the
second widest in league history. --David Sabino
SEASON SCORING TEAM PER GAME
1953-54 Milwaukee Hawks 70.0
1999-2000 Chicago Bulls 84.7
1975-76 Chicago Bulls 95.9
1988-89 Miami Heat 97.8
1989-90 Minn. Timberwolves 95.2
1951-52 Milwaukee Hawks 73.2
[SEASON] SCORING TEAM PER GAME DIFFERENCE
1953-54 Fort Wayne Pistons 77.7 7.7
1999-2000 New York Knicks 91.4 6.7
1975-76 Cleveland Cavaliers 101.7 5.8
1988-89 Dallas Mavericks 103.5 5.7
1989-90 New Jersey Nets 100.1 4.9
1951-52 Fort Wayne Pistons 78.0 4.8