EAST POINT, Ga. - Shareef Abdur-Rahim wears a suit instead of a jersey these days, following his Kings teammates at home and on the road while the right knee that's been operated on twice since June keeps him away from the game he loves.
But make no mistake. "Reef" is still making an impact.
The "Reef House" is an afterschool safe haven for kids on the outskirts of Atlanta, a labor of love where Abdur-Rahim has poured his resources and his soul into using his hoops career to have a positive influence. The facility that sits on Washington Road near the airport is in the neighborhood where he grew up, from his elementary school and junior high days that came before he found fame at Wheeler High School in Marietta some 30 minutes away.
As the Kings headed from Atlanta to Dallas for Friday's night against the Mavericks, I stayed behind to check out the site which had long drawn my interest. It was part of the reason he won a Trumpet Award on Jan. 13, becoming one of an esteemed class of African-Ameican winners that included actress Halle Berry, actor Danny Glover and rapper-actor Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.
But when I rang the doorbell on the "Reef House," it was less about big names than it was big hearts. Abdur-Rahim's sister, Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, certainly fit that bill. She is one of 11 Abdur-Rahim siblings, and so close in age to Shareef that she can't remember how close (a year or a year and a half, she says). Her 31-year-old brother by the way, isn't the only athlete in the family, as she ran track while attending Cal just like her brother had. He, of course, had slightly greater athletic fame, having been dubbed "The Future" for his talents that were just that promising.
Now though, Qaadirah is the executive director of the "Future Foundation," where the only gameplans are the ones which involve helping kids develop in a healthy and happy manner. There are two facilties, one which offers free programs of varying kinds to elementary and junior high-aged kids and another some five minutes away which services high school students.
As could be expected, there are rooms to study and rooms to play (with an XBox, if you choose, or head outside to the basketball court). But there are also rooms to talk about life, Qaadirah said, whether it's a chat on how to treat your parents with respect or the importance of staying out of trouble.
"We like to think that this is a lot more than a daycare service," Qaadirah said. "This is where kids are growing up right before our eyes and we offer them support."
Which is what their own parents did, of course. Their father, William, was the Imam (preacher) of a large congregation in Atlanta while also working long hours as an operations manager for a freight company. Their mother's name is Aminah. When Abdur-Rahim was 6, they opened a private Islamic school in Atlanta that eventually taught children from the first grade to the eighth grade. The lessons continue.
"Reef built this facility from the ground up with his own money," Qaadira said. "A lot of his money initially supported the foundation. Now we have over a million dollars in grant money. His funding still serves as a strong financial support for the foundation as well."
It began in 2004.
"It started with fourth and fifth graders," she continued. "Now they’re all in the 7th, 8th, 9th grade. Initially we were just going to service fourth and fifth graders, but Shareef came back and said, ‘Well if we just service fourth and fifth graders what’s going to happen when they go to sixth and seventh grade?"
So what happened, of course, was expansion. And while the Kings' schedule of back-to-back games in Miami and Atlanta didn't lend enough free time for Shareef to pay a visit on this trip, he has certainly done more than attach his name to this project.
"He always comes back to our back-to-school rally," Qaadira said. "He knows the kids by name. There are 12 (original kids) from 2004. It’s been exciting to see them grow." - Sam Amick