Hawks center Nazr Mohammed was in the Cincinnati airport on that
afternoon 18 months ago when he got the message from his sister:
Their father, Tahiru Abdul, had been killed, allegedly by an
employee at the auto-body shop he owned in Chicago. The
assailant, a man Tahiru Abdul had hired as an act of kindness,
had allegedly used a baseball bat to settle a financial dispute.
(He pleaded not guilty to murder charges.) Nazr had been raised
by his father since he was a toddler, when his parents split and
his mother, Mary, moved to her native Ghana. "I hate to say that
something like that puts your life in perspective, but it did,"
says Mohammed. "It made me become a leader of the family. I had
to start thinking about things like sending my sisters to
At the time, Mohammed, the fourth of his father's 11 children,
had the financial means to help take care of his seven sisters
and three brothers--after being drafted as a junior out of
Kentucky in 1998, he signed a three-year, $2 million deal with
the 76ers. However, the duration of his earning power was far
from clear. He had spent his first two seasons in Philly
marinating on Larry Brown's bench, scoring a total of 96 points.
When his mother flew from Ghana in December 2000 to see Nazr play
for the first time, he appeared for all of 59 seconds. "I
realized there was no guarantee I'd have a job the next season,"
the 6'10", 250-pound Mohammed says quietly. "Coach Brown offered
me to a lot of teams for a second-round pick, but nothing went
through. I felt like [getting] me for a second-round pick was a
pretty good deal."
Mohammed's big break came last February, when he was traded along
with center-forward Theo Ratliff, forward Toni Kukoc and guard
Pepe Sanchez to Atlanta for center Dikembe Mutombo and forward
Roshown McLeod. With Ratliff sidelined for the final 28 games
because of a broken right wrist, Mohammed made the most of his
first chance to play regularly, averaging 12.3 points and 9.0
rebounds. In the off-season he re-signed for $25 million over
five years and at week's end was averaging 10.5 points and 8.6
boards while starting 34 games in place of the oft-injured
Ratliff. He had pulled down 11 or more rebounds in six of his
last seven games, racking up 22 points and 19 boards (10 of them
offensive) in a 116-107 loss to the Bucks on Jan. 19. "He's a
tough rebounder, the type of guy who does the little things,"
says Hawks forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. "We'd be in a lot of
trouble without him."
Not blessed with the speed or hops of his younger brother Alhaji,
a sophomore point guard at Louisville, Mohammed is adept at
wielding his rear assets to maximum effect, especially for
clearing space under the offensive glass. "He's not that
athletic, so he has to use his girth and torso for positioning,"
says Atlanta assistant Rick Mahorn, who was the High Priest of
Hindquarters with the Pistons and the Sixers in the 1990s. "He's
got gifts and a nice soft touch."
Mohammed, who had Tahiru Abdul's likeness tattooed on his left
biceps, thinks his father would be proud of how he's persevered.
"If there's one thing I regret, it's that he didn't get the
opportunity to see me have the little success I've had," says
Mohammed, who hasn't been able to bring himself to erase Tahiru
Abdul's number from his cell phone. "It makes me mad even to
think about it."
COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES