Even though it's easy to criticize college basketball's one-and-done system for turning education into a necessary evil, it's important to remember there are players who work to become the exception to that rule.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, the longtime NBA forward who turned pro in 1996 after one season at California, never gave up on his education. The 35-year-old took classes sporadically throughout his 13-year NBA career and more regularly since he retired, earning a degree in sociology from Cal on Monday with a 3.8 GPA no less.
"I started, so I wanted to at some point finish," Abdur-Rahim told Cal's official athletics site. "I was here a while ago, I had a good freshman year and I left early, but I always had a goal of wanting to come back and finish earning my degree. I just wanted to set an example for my children, younger brothers and sisters and any other younger athletes that left school early."
North Carolina's Vince Carter and Georgetown's Jeff Green are among the underpublicized group of other NBA players who have earned their diplomas despite leaving college early, but few have done it under the circumstances Abdur-Rahim did.
Not many players would be dedicated enough to take the equivalent of three full years of classes after being selected No. 3 overall in the 1996 NBA draft and making millions of dollars a year for more than a decade. And not many players would make the commute between Sacramento and Berkeley for classes the past couple years while also serving as the assistant general manager for the Kings.
It's fitting that Abdur-Rahim would be the one to buck that trend because he never wanted to leave Cal in the first place. Even after scoring 21 points per game as a freshman and being named Pac-10 Player of the Year, Abdur-Rahim changed his mind several times before entering the draft, ultimately turning pro because it was the financially responsible decision.
"If it was just for myself, I'd rather be at Cal," Abdur-Rahim told the San Francisco Chronicle in May 1996. "But my mother has sacrificed all her life for me. My father has sacrificed all his life for me. It's because of my interest in helping my family's financial interests.''
In 2001, Abdur-Rahim founded the Future Foundation, which supports disadvantaged youth in the former All-Star's home state of Georgia in order to increase their options for post-secondary education. Now he'll be able to tell the kids he works with that they should follow in his footsteps and get their college degree.
"Cal is one of the great institutions in the world," Abdur-Rahim said. "To be able to say I went through the process of being educated here is awesome."
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