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With Very Strong Will, Abdul-Rauf Finds a Way : Basketball: Tourette's syndrome, an oft-misunderstood neurological disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, goads Nuggets's star along.

March 27, 1994|JOHNETTE HOWARD | WASHINGTON POST

Thinking he needed to bulk up his 6-foot-1, 169-pound frame for the NBA, he reported at a flaccid 185 pounds. (He now attributes some of the weight gain to Haldol, a medicine he later quit taking.)

Whatever the reason, the lack of conditioning made him ill-suited for then-Nuggets coach Paul Westhead's run-and-gun offense. Before long their relationship had disintegrated into a non-communicative standoff. Nuggets General Manager Bernie Bickerstaff publicly told Abdul-Rauf to "stop bitching" and start playing.

That prompted LSU's Brown to jump in: "If he (Bickerstaff) wants to destroy Chris Jackson, all he has to do is keep putting statements like that in the newspapers."

His second season was even worse. Afterward, Abdul-Rauf picked up a magazine one day and read a stinging article that declared "I was a bust."

Finally he responded with a fury. He dropped 32 pounds before the 1992-93 season, resuming the dawn-to-dusk work habits that marked his adolescence.

After a January lull, Abdul-Rauf put together a scoring streak that coincided with the Feb. 11 start of Ramadan, even though his weight has now dropped to a wraith-like 147 pounds.

Though some recent reports said the Nuggets were still chafing behind the scenes at Abdul-Rauf's weight and his admitted two-month break from his medication, Abdul-Rauf's retort is rancorless but unwavering.

"I understand now there's more to life than playing ball," he says. "I don't live to please my teammates, my coaches, the fans.

"I live to please Allah."

So much so that Abdul-Rauf says, "Right now I don't even know how long I'll be in the NBA. After a time you just want something that's stronger, deeper. Some of me says it'll be after this contract, in four more years."

If that happens he would be only 29. The reason he would walk away is the obvious one that guides everything in his life. "The holy Koran says, 'Which of the favors of your God would you deny?' " Abdul-Rauf says. "I'd like to build a mosque, build a community, build businesses--just go out and propagate Islam. I want to live Islam and die Islam."

Smiling serenely now, he hardly needs to add, "I want to get it perfect."

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