When Shareef Abdur-Rahim’s knees finally gave out, when his days as a dynamic scorer in the NBA came to an unceremonious end, he didn’t exactly know what to do next within the game of basketball.
So he dabbled in a little bit of everything.
“Coaching, scouting, helping evaluate the draft,” Abdur-Rahim said. “It all opened up my eyes.”
Here’s what Abdur-Rahim is seeing now: The G League, under his leadership.
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Abdur-Rahim is starting his first full week as president of the NBA’s developmental league, now having replaced Malcolm Turner after he stepped down to take over as athletic director at Vanderbilt. The move was announced last month — Dec. 11, Abdur-Rahim’s 42nd birthday — and Turner’s last day with the G League was officially Friday.
Since the announcement, Abdur-Rahim has been studying up for his new job, but in actuality, he’s been preparing for something like this almost from the very moment his playing career ended 11 years ago. And those who know him best have absolutely no reservations in predicting that he’ll be great in the role.
“He’s a very thoughtful human being that is very respectful of other people’s opinions and their work,” said Geoff Petrie, who was running the basketball side of the Sacramento Kings when Abdur-Rahim spent the final three seasons of his career there. “He’s just one of those guys who you don’t run across very often. I say this all the time: If you can’t get along with Shareef, you can’t get along with anybody.”
If it wasn’t for people like Petrie, none of this probably would have happened.
The Kings acquired Abdur-Rahim — the No. 3 pick by Vancouver in the 1996 draft — as a free agent before the 2005-06 season. He helped Sacramento to the playoffs that year; the Kings haven’t been back to the postseason since. And 18 months or so after that playoff trip, the only one of Abdur-Rahim’s career, he appeared in an NBA game for the final time.
His knees were shot. He underwent surgeries, to no avail. He retired with the Kings still owing him plenty of money, so Petrie offered him a chance to learn the game from a front-office perspective. Abdur-Rahim didn’t hesitate.
“What they did, they did a great job really allowing me to be part of everything,” Abdur-Rahim said. “It really made the think about eventually being in a front office.”
The Kings eventually made him general manager of their G League — then known as the NBA Development League — affiliate in Reno, Nevada. From there, the NBA brought him on board as a vice president of basketball operations. And when Turner stepped down, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum didn’t need long before deciding on who should be his replacement.
“A fantastic fit. … He is well-prepared to build on the tremendous progress that the NBA G League has made under Malcolm,” Tatum said.
The reason why Petrie took a chance on Abdur-Rahim when his playing days were done is because he didn’t view it as taking a chance. Petrie was already well-aware of Abdur-Rahim’s insatiable thirst for knowledge. When Abdur-Rahim was working for the Kings, Petrie allowed him all the time he needed for educational quests — completing his undergraduate degree from Cal, then getting his MBA from USC.
Everything Petrie did, Abdur-Rahim wanted to know why. He wanted to know about every signing, every trade, every decision that went into making or changing the Kings’ roster. That curiosity didn’t start when Abdur-Rahim retired, either — as a Kings player, he was the same way with Petrie.
“He’d always ask really good questions about what we were thinking on this or why we would do things this way,” Petrie said. “He was very studious that way without being intruding or opinionated like some people can be.”
Abdur-Rahim tried to be the same way in the NBA office.
“When you’re there, I think you look at the game and the business from such a macro level,” Abdur-Rahim said. “You’re able to see how basketball is an economic engine, an engine for engaging people, an engine for bringing communities together. That, I think, is what continues to excite me.”
And that brings him to the top chair in the G League.
It’s Silver’s name on the ball, just like in the NBA. But the task of continuing to make the G League bigger and better — with to-do items like capping off the quest to get the league to 30 teams, each affiliated with an NBA club, and the likely sooner-than-later expansion to Mexico — now are Abdur-Rahim’s responsibility. He’ll also oversee the league as it starts to offer $125,000 contracts to elite prospects as an alternative to going the “one-and-done” route in college, something that should begin later this year.
He never needed the G League as a player.
He and the league will need each other now.
“I’m absolutely an advocate for players. There’s no other way to say it,” Abdur-Rahim said. “I think Adam and Mark would say the same thing. That’s what they’ve demonstrated to me. I’m an advocate for players, for the league, for growing the league and doing what’s right. If you do that, you make better players, better coaches, better executives. I want to have all that going on in the G League.”
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