LSU basketball superstar Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson during his illustrious playing days in Baton Rouge, had his No. 35 jersey retired at halftime on Saturday inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Abdul-Rauf joins Pete Maravich (No. 23), Shaquille O’Neal (No. 33), Durand Macklin (No. 40) and Bob Pettit (No. 50) as former Tiger basketball greats to have their jersey forever immortalized in the rafters of the PMAC.
The Gulfport, Mississippi native is still trying to process everything that’s happened over the years. Abdul-Rauf’s collegiate career will go down as one of the greatest ever, and he still pinches himself about it thirty years later when he watches old highlight tapes on YouTube.
“I still pinch myself. I mean, literally. I’m not exaggerating,” he said in an interview last spring. “I’m still like ‘Man, I did all that?’”
In two seasons at LSU (1988-1989, 1989-1990), Abdul-Rauf was named a two-time consensus SEC Player of the Year, averaging 30.2 points per game to set an NCAA freshman scoring record that he still holds today.
“I got a feeling that I could [dominate] after my second game,” he said at yesterday’s press conference. “The first game I had about 12 or 13 points. The second game I had 21. That’s when things felt a little usual, like I was back in high school around the playground.”
Selected with the third overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft, Abdul-Rauf played nine seasons in the league, where he averaged 14.6 points and 3.5 assists per game by the end of his career.
While commonly known as Chris Jackson throughout his time at LSU, the newly-minted NBA hooper converted to Islam in 1991 and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
His career as a professional was highlighted by many standout performances with the Denver Nuggets, but also for the controversy surrounding his refusal to stand for the national anthem before games. On March 12, 1996, Abdul-Rauf was handed a one-game suspension by the NBA for his protest, where he later agreed to stand, and instead pray, during the anthem going forward.
In today’s social media age, athletes at all levels feel like they have the platform to speak out on social issues. At yesterday’s presser, Abdul-Rauf addressed that notion and provided his own thoughts on how he feels younger athletes are handling the unique platform they have to speak.
“I like some of it, and some of it I don’t,” he said on athletes speaking out. “But I think it’s very important. I think, in so many ways, it’s irresponsible for people to expect that just because a person may be an athlete that they lose their citizenship in other ways. If you’ve got a heart, and want to say something, say something.”
Obviously, none of Will Wade’s players grew up watching Abdul-Rauf, but he still talks to his team about the legacy he left behind, and even tried to draw a comparison to the current day.
"He was Steph Curry before Steph Curry,” Wade said. “I think that's the best way you can describe it. I mean to average 30 points as a freshman, it's just incredible. It takes some freshmen the first month to score 48 points, and good freshmen too. He was just a tremendous player."
Wade himself was only 6 years old when Abdul-Rauf began his career in Baton Rouge.
During the halftime ceremony, Abdul-Rauf’s No. 35 was unveiled to a unanimous PMAC roar. He took the mic and was overcome with emotion talking about his children as they stood beside him. Even Shaquille O’Neal chimed in on the video board with a congratulatory message for his former teammate, calling him “undoubtedly” the greatest player in LSU basketball history.
Strong words from someone whose statue sits outside the gym.
Now, even at age 50, Abdul-Rauf is still involved with the game, playing as a member of the BIG3 three-on-three basketball league, consisting of former NBA and international players. He’s still in incredible shape, and just signed a new contract to re-join the league for another season.
“I just try to make it a lifestyle,” Abdul-Rauf said on staying healthy. “I try to watch what I eat. I try to get proper rest. For me, my faith is critical. It governs everything that I do.”
As LSU secured a critical victory against Texas A&M, and recognized one of the greatest to ever wear the uniform, Saturday was a day to remember at the PMAC for all involved.