Phil Jackson clarifies his Stephen Curry/Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf comp

Ball Don't Lie
Phil Jackson clarifies his Stephen Curry/Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf comp
Phil Jackson clarifies his Stephen Curry/Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf comp

On Sunday afternoon, in the wake of Stephen Curry’s Destroyer of Worlds-performance against Oklahoma City, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson tweeted something that wasn’t wrong in the slightest:

Twitter had a lot of fun with the old boomer. Even those that agreed with him, yours truly included, got their shots in via Twitter. It was Phil throwing shade, right? The old Knick who hates three-pointers getting another dig in while his team triple-posts its way out of the playoffs yet again. Comparing the work of what could be the NBA’s first ever unanimously-voted upon MVP to a player that never made an All-Star team, someone who couldn’t even top 40 percent from behind the arc with the NBA’s shortened 22-foot three-point line.

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On Monday – a day that shouldn’t exist! – Jackson felt the need to clarify his comment:

Here’s the issue: Phil Jackson isn’t wrong.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the former Chris Jackson, played like Stephen Curry. He played a lot like Stephen Curry. He was a score-first point guard that acted as a threat from long range, while still harboring the ability to drive toward the rim and/or dish if defenses overplayed his quick hands from outside. He wasn’t anywhere as near as good as Stephen Curry, but he played like Stephen Curry.

Via ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Curry’s own coach made the same comparison earlier in 2016:

“The only guys I can think of that are close would be Mark Price, Steve Nash and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf,” [Steve] Kerr said. “He had a lot of that, but didn’t have the same range that Steph has. Nash didn’t have the speed. But Mark Price, Steph’s very similar to price. Price had that package, but not to the extent Steph has it.”

You can compare legends to lesser players, it really is just fine! David Thompson never won an NBA championship, but nobody played closer to Michael Jordan’s style than the Skywalker, and MJ himself would tell you as much. Kevin Durant plays a fair bit like Kiki Vandeweghe. LeBron James plays a lot like a hyperdriven Jamal Mashburn. John Wall plays like Rickey Green.

None of those current players patterned their game after those listed above, but that’s how the actual game works. Stephen Curry was “Dell Curry’s kid” before he became “Stephen Curry.” He watched as his father made a 16-year career out of acting as a three-point specialist – leading the NBA in 1999 with a 47 percent mark from long range in the second year that the line was moved back to its current proportions. Steph was 10 years old that season.

By 1999, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was playing in Turkey. He wasn’t exactly blackballed from the NBA after refusing to stand at attention for the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in 1996 (Mahmoud played two sub-par seasons in the league following that commotion), but interest in the shooter was dim. Such was the state of the league at the time. Abdul-Rauf would return for a cup of coffee with the Vancouver Grizzlies in 2000-01, but he would retire in 2001 having hit 474 career three-pointers. Stephen Curry is on pace to hit 421 of them this season alone.

Still, Phil Jackson was alert and present for two of the biggest moments of Abdul-Rauf’s NBA career.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, in 1996. (Getty Images)
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, in 1996. (Getty Images)

He was coaching the Bulls in 1996 when the league forced Abdul-Rauf to stand with his teammates for the national anthem following a one game suspension – a stance that left suburbanite Bulls fans (some clutching full-sized US flags at a Chicago Bulls/Denver Nuggets basketball game) and well-paid sportswriters teetering. Abdul-Rauf would score 19 points in that game, coming off the bench, but he would only play three more games as a Nugget following that return.

A month and a half earlier, though, Jackson had to watch as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf made Chicago’s league-leading defense look silly as the point guard nailed four three-pointers and scored 32 points in a 105-99 win over the Bulls:

Abdul-Rauf made mincemeat of Chicago guards both big and small. The Bulls entered that Sunday night contest with a 41-3 record and an 18-game winning streak, and though they made a valiant comeback Denver hung on for the win. Chicago would go on to lose the next night in Phoenix, the only pair of back-to-back losses the Bulls suffered in their 72-10 season.

Perhaps, then, Phil Jackson was throwing shade. This is why I sent this his way on Sunday:

If Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors finish the season with a 73-9 record, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf might be the reason they’ll have broken Phil Jackson’s 72-win record. Sure, you can point to Pete Myers’ half-court halftime heave or Hue Hollins’ phantom fourth quarter call for other reasons the Bulls lost that year, but few drenched the Bulls as badly as Abdul-Rauf did that season.

Phil Jackson wasn’t wrong. The dude knows what he’s talking about.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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