The former Kings forward and current director of player personnel dishes on his transition from player to front office executive and more.
Despite being expected to miss two months of game action, Shareef Abdur-Rahim – with his mouth wired shut – returned to the court on Jan. 19, 2006, three-and-a-half weeks after suffering a broken jaw.
“I couldn’t eat anything (solid), so anything I’d eat, I’d have to put it in a blender, mix it with chicken broth, puree it all the way down and sip it with a straw,” recalls Abdur-Rahim with a chuckle. “It was terrible – I don’t wish it on anybody.”
Remarkably, the hard-working forward played through the pain, fatigue and breathing discomfort – scoring in double-figures in his first game back – and helped lead the Kings to the postseason as an integral reserve.
“I wanted to play – I thought we had a chance to make the Playoffs that year and we did,” says the 12-year NBA veteran. “I made a contribution (even though) I wasn’t quite myself. If I could get out there and figure out a way to help out, I wanted to do it.”
The 2000 U.S. Olympian and 2002 All-Star – who became the sixth-youngest player in League history to reach the 10,000-point plateau at age 26 – retired in 2008 with career averages of 18.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
After spending two seasons behind Sacramento’s bench as an assistant coach, Abdur-Rahim served as assistant general manager and was most recently named director of player personnel.
In a recent interview with Kings.com, the University of California, Berkeley product breaks down his new role, offers advice for up-and-coming players and much more.
How would you describe your responsibilities as Kings Director of Player Personnel?
“I would describe it as fluid. I do everything from going out and scouting collegiate, professional, semi-professional and international games to giving my recommendations on positions, Draft picks and potential moves we may make. Now, we signed off the hybrid affiliation with the (Reno Bighorns of the) Development League, so I’m in the process of helping put that whole structure and situation together, along with the rest of our group.”
What have been your impressions of the team’s new front office?
“They’re very smart, very talented people who are willing to share and be a part of a team.
“(Kings General Manager Pete D’Alessandro and I) knew each other a little (beforehand), so our relationship is good and it’s growing. We were both working for different teams and in different cities, but I think now we’ve gotten a chance to know each other, get a feel for each other and I think it’s something that’s worked well.”
How would you characterize the transition from playing to coaching to your current role?
“I think coaching and working with the guys for a few years, I was constantly learning different sets of skills and the different ways of (communicating) what they can do to improve. I learned how to teach – that’s a different skill set than just playing. It allowed me to look at the game from a different perspective and be more objective.
“Then, coming over to the front office, everything that goes into putting a team together – all the moves relating to evaluating players, communicating with coaches and players from a different capacity, speaking with agents, understanding the salary cap – all of that stuff is a different set of skills and a different approach. You constantly learn if you’re willing to work.”
How does your experience as a former player affect the way you evaluate talent?
“It absolutely does, because I think from playing, I know the different skills that translate to the NBA and the types of things that it takes to be successful on this level. I think from that (perspective), I can be around guys, talk to them from a very casual standpoint and detect the authentic from the fake.”
What excites you most about the current Kings roster?
“I think it’s still our youth. Also, I think we’ve developed a roster of really gritty, hard-working, competitive guys. I think even as we grow and evolve it will make the process really enjoyable.”
As a former All-Star forward, what kind of advice have you given the team’s big men?
“I think you want to be consistent – you want to get to the point where your team knows what to expect from you and knows what they’re going to get from you every night. The guys who are consistent at a high level for longer amounts of time – year after year after year – are the guys who have really good careers and guys who continue to get better. When you’re young, you’ll have a good month or a couple of good weeks and you’ll tail off a little bit and then pick it back up. I think the thing you want to do is really work and get yourself to the point where you give a consistent effort, consistent production, consistent contribution every night, every year.”
Which teams and players did you follow growing up?
“I’m from Atlanta, so I was a big Hawks fan and a big Dominique Wilkins fan, (and also) a big Lakers and Magic Johnson fan. The NBA has really expanded much more so now (compared to when) I was growing up, so I probably watched more college basketball than I did NBA basketball. The teams I grew up watching were the Georgetown teams with Patrick (Ewing) and the big North Carolina teams.”
How would you describe your gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball experience in 2000?
“It’s probably the most memorable experience of my career because I was representing my country. I was around so many other great players, like Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett – really good guys I knew personally and some guys I didn’t know so well. I had an opportunity to see how they work and how they approach the game. I was still a relatively young player, so I was able to take a big part of that experience with me to improve my game.”
What do you remember about your first Playoff experience with the 2005-06 Kings?
“It was so much fun – so competitive. We lost in six games to the Spurs, but we made a run at it. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.”
How important was earning your college degree to you and how did you go about completing the courses?
“It was huge. My dream was always to play in the NBA – I was always (focused on) basketball – so having the opportunity to go back and finish my degree was important to set an example for my children. It was important for them to see me go through that process of studying, taking tests and graduating.
“I think Stephon Marbury and I were the first guys to start this era of going to school for one year and leaving. After that, you started seeing a rush of guys leaving after high school and after one year of college. If that’s the right thing for you and the right thing for your family, then do it, but I think you also want to show there’s enough time where at some point you can still take advantage of the opportunity to graduate. Hopefully, by going back and doing it, I set an example for some of the younger guys in the NBA.
“I would go back here and there and take classes while I was playing. Now, so many schools have classes online, so I did that for as long as I could. At a certain point, I just had to go back and take the classes I needed at the actual university. It was great to reconnect with the campus. My (first) year there I was so focused on basketball – I went to class and right back to the gym (or) right to the weight room. There were parts of the campus I never saw! Having a chance to go back and take classes was interesting, fun and a great experience.”
You established the Future Foundation, which provides support for underprivileged youth. How much does it mean to you to give back to the community?
“Being a member of the NBA, you’re partnering with different cities and you expect so much from the cities and their support for the team and organization. As part of that partnership, you find ways to be a positive member of the community. Guys should have some type of presence in the community they’re in, and I’ve always tried to do that – be it my home city of Atlanta, when I was in Vancouver, Portland and here.”
How would you describe yourself off the court?
“I think I’m fun – probably a little reserved. The thing I enjoy most is time with family – I have a son, so I coach him when I can during different parts of the year, and spend time with my daughter.
“I enjoy basketball – I think I’m a basketball junkie. Sitting around watching basketball, that’s probably my biggest (hobby).”