Invisible Man: Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's Forgotten Protest

Curator's Note

In my clip, we see Chris Jackson, now Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, performing in the 1993 NBA Slam Dunk Contest (at the height of his popularity/fame). He and his two brothers were raised by a single mother, who juggled multiple jobs to maintain food and shelter for the family. Abdul-Rauf also has Tourette’s syndrome, which was left undiagnosed until high school (one can see the symptoms of this condition in the clip). In the midst of these hardships, he pushed himself and perfected his basketball skills. After flourishing in high school athletics, Abdul-Rauf progressed to college athletics at Louisiana State University. In 1990, the Denver Nuggets selected him as the third pick of the NBA draft. Throughout the early 1990s, he enjoyed great success with the Nuggets.

In 1991, he converted to Islam and, in 1993, changed his name legally from Chris Jackson to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. During the 1995 season, Abdul-Rauf began staying in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem. His protest was accepted (for more than 60 games) until in March 1996 Nuggets fans called in to a local radio station and complained. This radio call-in led to a newspaper story and courtside interview with Abdul-Rauf. During his interview, he labeled the United States flag, “a symbol of oppression, of tyranny”. On March 12 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf indefinitely without pay (a loss of $31,707 per game). This suspension was very brief, but eventually led to the athlete leaving the NBA and playing basketball abroad (Europe, Canada).

There are virtually no press photos of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s protest due to the fact that it mainly took place within the locker-room. His protest has pretty much been culturally forgotten (only recently remembered due to Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest). Why has his particular protest been so easily swept under the rug? Is it because the protest took place in a pre-9/11, pre-Islamophobic media climate? Is it simply because there was no visual image attached to the protest? Is it tied to the fact that there was no way to commodify Abdul Rauf’s protest? 

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