Ahmad Rashad played a central role in NBA's growth and his 'Inside Stuff' reunion proved it

Yahoo Sports

Clyde Drexler could barely get the words out over his laughter, talking about coming to a Dream Team practice with two right shoes.

Shaquille O’Neal was in his full not-safe-for-work glory, regaling the Zoom video conference crowd with stories featuring his vulgar mate in crime, Gary Payton, about their union in Miami playing for Pat Riley.

Dominique Wilkins topped it all — possibly — by chronicling his days as a Los Angeles Clipper during the height of then-owner Donald Sterling’s behind-the-scenes foolishness, where Sterling wanted David Robinson to embarrass his team to win the scoring title on the last day of the 1994 regular season.

And orchestrating it all from the top left hand corner of the screen was a man who’s been in living rooms, arenas and stadiums for five decades, Ahmad Rashad, who gathered up the stars of the ‘90s for an “Inside Stuff” reunion Sunday night on the NBA’s Twitter handle.

It felt like a technological reunion of uncles, telling old stories and throwing light-hearted jabs. They just happened to be Dream Teamers.

“I said it's like you're at my house, we're having a couple beers,” Rashad told Yahoo Sports. “Guys telling on each other. Clyde's shoes, David scoring 71 points. I know these guys' personality so I knew when to prod and when not to prod.”

Now, depending on a viewer’s age, Rashad may be well-known for one or several notable events.

First, the man born as Bobby Moore before converting to Islam and becoming a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings during his 10-year career.

Or as the man who boldly proposed to Phylicia Ayers-Allen, aka Clair Huxtable from the iconic “Cosby Show” on Thanksgiving Day in 1985, telling Bob Costas to send word to her at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while adding, “either I’ll be the happiest person in the world or the biggest turkey on national television.”

Or as the man who seamlessly transitioned to not only the sideline reporter for the “NBA on NBC” but also on Saturday mornings as the executive producer, managing editor and co-host for NBA’s “Inside Stuff” — the first show of its kind, and honestly, the only one, a show that hasn’t been duplicated since.

Ahmad Rashad during an NBA playoffs segment on June 2, 1995. (Photo by Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
Ahmad Rashad during an NBA playoffs segment on June 2, 1995. (Photo by Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Rashad has come back to center stage in the wake of the “Last Dance” documentary, which wrapped up airing over the weekend. Rashad’s relationship with Michael Jordan was well-known through the ‘90s, but he played a critical part in the popularity of the NBA through the decade with the activity-filled television show.

It’s a stretch to say he’s been forgotten but it seems appropriate to say he’s been overlooked in the telling of the NBA story over the last couple decades, as he was around every big event of the decade but hardly ever drawing attention to himself.

“To be at the forefront of that, now that I'm older, I feel really good,” Rashad said. “It was a pleasure and honor for me to be a part of history. You wonder if people realize that.”

When then-commissioner David Stern came to him with this idea to highlight NBA players in a different light, the athlete in Rashad jumped at the opportunity.

“The way you make people like a sport, if you see a star and he's a nice guy, you like him even better,” Rashad said. “We had a show that was so comfortable, that when we brought it to you, you were a fly on the wall and these guys would let their guard down.”

Could ‘Inside Stuff’ have come at a more perfect time?

The NBA was exploding off the fertile ‘80s, and with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird headed into retirement, a new breed of colorful stars were emerging, ready for attention.

Rashad’s “Inside Stuff” was the vehicle to display the aerodynamic haircuts, flashy personalities and players eager to allow someone behind the curtain.

The basketball in the ‘90s wasn’t as poetic as the ‘80s, but the packaging, illustrated by the week’s best plays in the uptempo “Jam Session,” presented the best of the league and thus created the narrative of the decade.

“We'd go to the store or sit in the yard or play the piano,” Rashad said. “It was nice to see these guys as human beings and not just as basketball players. It was a beautiful concept and a beautiful genre and nobody did it as well as we did. I was a football player but all these guys grew up watching me. They knew we had something in common, that athletic side.”

“I knew all the guys, I knew the guys who were playing, I booked all the guests. ‘I'm coming to Detroit to do something with you, so what day do you wanna do it and we're going to the house, we'll hang out.’ I tried to make my interviews like conversations and not quizzes. It was a conversation. I was trying to show these guys' best side.”

Rashad was also a central figure in the Stay in School campaign geared toward youths, a star-studded two-day event during All-Star Weekends.

“We always tried to have a learning element,” Rashad said. “Some sort of a presence in the lives of younger kids that were basketball fans. We got their attention with the basketball, then slip some knowledge.”

Rashad struck the perfect pitch. His easygoing and self-deprecating demeanor made him appealing for the younger crowd while he possessed the credibility that had him respected by adults.

So respected was Rashad that he won an Emmy for writing in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Dating back to the last five years of his playing career in Minnesota, where he was a full-time employee for the CBS affiliate doing three shows a week, he was prepared for the network television stage.

And being one of the few African Americans on sports television at the time is something he didn’t take lightly, which also made him take a sense of responsibility for how the players were presented.

“And so it was kind of inspirational, for me and for them. I would feel that pride in what was achieved,” he said.

Nobody said no to Rashad. They relished the chance to be called his “main man” and often would tell him they wanted to be on “Inside Stuff.” He borrowed the line from his father, who couldn’t remember the names of his friends in high school but would often say in lieu, “Here’s my main man,” and nobody would be the wiser.

“I'm sure these guys' parents were happy they were on ‘Inside Stuff,’” he said. “It was a mark of ‘I made it.’ I couldn't go to a game without having a player make a shot and say 'put that on ‘Inside Stuff.’”

Every now and again, players of today will mention the nostalgia from the ‘90s and the show itself, but the times are different.

Highlights are easily found on social platforms within seconds, and players can open their phones if they want to directly connect with fans, so it would be harder for a show like that to thrive in the same way it did decades ago.

But those connections from the players to Rashad and back are even harder to replicate, meaning moments like last Sunday won’t come around too often anymore.

“What makes me feel best is, I was able to get those guys,” Rashad said. “It's a reinforcement that the ‘Inside Stuff’ was a very good show, created a lot of good friendships and it's so cool I'm able to call these guys and they're like, 'is Ahmad doing it? I'm doing it.' It made me feel really good.”

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