Every June, draft prospects start to interest fans not just as faraway players who will one day suit up in NBA uniforms, but as young men on the brink of pro careers. As such, we pay attention to not just their skills, but their life stories, as well.
Few players in this draft have a background as interesting as Mustapha Farrakhan Jr., a senior shooting guard from the University of Virginia. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because he's the grandson of Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. While Farrakhan has done many positive things, including organizing the Million Man March, he also has a long history of antisemitism and claimed that the destruction of much of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina was caused by malicious government intervention. In other words, it wasn't terribly shocking when he supported Barack Obama's run for the presidency in 2008 and Obama immediately distanced himself from the endorsement.
But Mustapha Jr. is his own man and deserves to be taken on his own terms. Stefan Bondy wrote about his attempt to play in the NBA for the New York Daily News:
The former Virginia guard and NBA draft hopeful is the grandson of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. But as he tours NBA cities for predraft workouts - hoping against mock drafts that his name will be called one week from Thursday in Newark - Farrakhan is just trying to fit in. It's the story of his life.
"I just tell everybody, 'How your grandfather is, that's how my grandfather is,'" he said. "It doesn't feel any different or weird to me. It's just family."
The 6-4 guard is still a practicing Muslim, but his preference is for basketball sneakers, not bow ties. Despite raising his scoring average seven points to 13.5 in his senior year, Farrakhan is not projected to be picked in either round of the draft, nor does he place that aspiration above "working hard." His workout Wednesday was his fourth in this predraft cycle. [...]
"Everybody has their beliefs or whatever they have about you until you get to know me," he said. "Once they get to know me and my family, they know this guy's a genuine person and a cool guy to be around. I just tell everybody, 'Don't judge a book by its cover and if you want to come ask me a question or get to know me, just ask me, get to know me.'"
Farrakhan understandably doesn't want to turn his back on his family, but he also seems to be doing everything in his power to show that he's learned from his elders without following in their footsteps. He's a fairly regular guy, just one with a close connection to a controversial figure in recent American history. That doesn't make him someone who hates America or who would refuse to play on a team with noted Republican Spencer Hawes. He's just trying to work hard, improve his game, and do well in his chosen profession.
It remains to be seen if Farrakhan will be picked next Thursday -- neither DraftExpress.com nor NBADraft.net have him listed in their mock drafts. But even if he doesn't, he deserves your well wishes as he embarks on his professional basketball career.