This basketball season at least twelve NBA players are Muslim. The Undefeated talks to current and former Muslim basketball stars about balancing Islam and the sport they love, and here are some snippets:
ON balancing basketball with Ramadan:
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (known for playing on the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Vancouver Grizzlies): In terms of praying, it was difficult because we traveled a lot, so there are prescribed times when we are to pray. Obviously, there are certain situations you can delay it or make it up. But just trying to find those prayers at those prescribed times were not always easy because you’re sometimes in the air, sometimes you’re practicing or you’re in the process of a game. And also fasting, there are challenges of practicing early and spending all of that energy. Or, playing the game sometimes when you’re playing, it’s time to break at that moment. … Ramadan just takes out of you naturally, but at the same time your body adapts after a certain time.
Enes Kanter (Knicks): Well, of course, you have daily prayers, which you have to do. And the NBA schedule is really difficult with lots of workouts, meetings, traveling, watching game video. So it’s tough, but possible. The same with fasting. I fast while I play, but I just make sure that I live a healthy lifestyle at the same time.
ON being Muslim in the NBA:
Kanter: The NBA is like a family; people are respectful of my faith, and the faith of others. The NBA is inclusive, and you can be yourself. Most treat me just like everyone else.
Hakeem Olajuwon (known for Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors):: My teammates, coaches and executives always showed me tremendous respect and regard for my faith. I think it was because they witnessed my growth and maturity along the way due to my beliefs. The Islamic principles are the most upright way of life, and when you practice that, it will reflect in your character.
Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets): I’ve never dealt with it from my teammates or coaches. But general public, yeah. I get it a lot, especially when I start to post that I am Muslim or Eid Mubarak [a Muslim greeting during the holy festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha]. I posted [online] for that, like, ‘Hey, Eid’s coming up, blessings.’ And people just have so much hate… But you also get your good people commenting back, saying [positive things].
ON misconceptions with being Muslim:
Tariq Abdul-Wahad (Dallas Mavericks): The biggest misconception is its universality. It is no longer the spiritual quest of a few Bedouin Arabs in the desert. Islam is now a worldwide way of life that has an incredible number of cultural expressions across the globe.
Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves): The biggest misconception was people thinking Muslims are terrorists.