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Shareef Abdur-Rahim reflects on meeting Muhammad Ali at All-Star Weekend in letter

The former Hawks’ All-Star compares a lesson he learned from The Greatest to the solution of improving the modern landscape of America.

Hawks v Pacers X

Shareef Abdur-Rahim is arguably the most under-appreciated Hawk in the last 20 years.

Perhaps it’s due to playing for the franchise in the dreadful early 2000s era, or being a centerpiece of the failed 2003 playoff guarantee. Offensively, however, he was as consistent as consistent comes.

Until Feb. 20, Abdur-Rahim was last Hawk to score 50 points in a game. He reached the mark on Nov. 23, 2001 in a comeback home victory against the Detroit Pistons.

He also put up 43 points and 12 rebounds against a rookie LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. He averaged 20.4 points and 8.9 rebounds in an era where the idea of a big, not named Dirk Nowitzki, stretching the floor was taking mid-range jumpers, and high-scoring games had finals of 108-104, not 153-149.

The Hawks traded for Abdur-Rahim from the Vancouver Grizzlies on draft night in 2001 for some guy named Pau Gasol. In the first season with his hometown team, the Wheeler graduate made the lone All-Star appearance of his career. He was the last Hawk to make the nationally-televised exhibition until Joe Johnson in 2007. During All-Star Weekend, Abdur-Rahim met Muhammad Ali, which brings us back to 2020.

In June, Abdur-Rahim penned a letter about Ali, leading with how honored he was to take a picture with The Greatest as Abdur-Rahim donned his red Hawks’ warm up. In the letter, Abdur-Rahim wrote about how he admired Ali’s confidence and vision for his life path long before anyone else saw his vision.

Abdur-Rahim then paralleled Ali’s vision to the state of America today, and how leaders need to envision a brighter future in order to improve today’s reality.

“It’s critical that we spend time dreaming and envisioning, too, and to define what kind of community we’re working towards,” he wrote. “It’s the only way we’ll ever create the kind of societies that work for everyone, regardless of race or any other factor.

“It all begins in our minds. The way we think and the way we allow ourselves to think has a powerful effect, not only on us but on others and on our community.”

Abdur-Rahim’s stint in Atlanta ended at the trade deadline in 2004, just after the Hawks beat the Dallas Mavericks in a victory where he put up 27 points and 10 rebounds. Atlanta traded him, Dan Dickau and Theo Ratliff to the Portland Trail Blazers for Rasheed Wallace and Wesley Person. Wallace, a star at the time who was seemingly years ahead telling The Oregonian the NBA’s white establishment is using young Black athletes to enrich itself, was flipped to the Detroit Pistons after one game with the Hawks. His deal was expiring at the end of the 2004 season, and one of the assets Atlanta received in return was a pick that turned into Josh Smith.

Now, Abdur-Rahim is the NBA G League President and established a program that lured the No. 1 2020 prospect Jalen Green to forego the one-and-done route. He is also an entrepreneur, philanthropist, “community builder, and advocate for athletes,” according to his personal website.

One of those athletes, with an eerily similar career path, is Boston Celtics’ wing Jaylen Brown. Brown, who spent a large part of his postgame availability on Sunday quoting civil rights’ icon Angela Davis and explaining the lesser-known origins of the national anthem, led Wheeler to a state championship, too. He also attended Cal-Berkley for a season before declaring for the NBA Draft and getting drafted third — just like Abdur-Rahim did 20 years prior.

So if history repeated itself, look for the Hawks to get the third overall pick in the 2021 draft, only to trade the asset as a part of a deal with Boston to bring Brown back home.