In a televised prime-time speech given yesterday (Dec. 6), US president Barack Obama told the American public that “Muslim-Americans are our friends, neighbors, and sports heroes.” He didn’t specify any of the latter, but Muslim-American athletes have been prominent in the US for decades. Here are a few of the most well-known:
Muhammad Ali. Originally from Kentucky, the boxer Muhammad Ali converted to Islam after winning the world heavyweight championship in 1964 at the age of 22. He eventually went on to win some of the most celebrated matches in boxing history, including the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where as an underdog he regained the heavyweight title by knocking out George Foreman.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born in New York as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar converted to Islam in 1968 while still in university. Playing the center position first for the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Los Angeles Lakers, he is still statistically the greatest player of all time. He won the NBA’s most valuable player six times and played in 19 all-star games, and remains the league’s all-time leading scorer, ahead of Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan.
Aqib Talib. Born in Ohio and spending his teen years in Texas, Aqib Talib is currently one of the most feared cornerbacks in the NFL. He entered the league in the 2008 season and has so far racked up 30 career interceptions, including eight run back for touchdowns. In 2009 he had three interceptions in one game. In March 2014, he signed a $57 million contract with the Denver Broncos, and he started the season by returning an interception for a touchdown in a win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Ahmad Rashād. Born in Portland, Oregon, Ahmad Rashād was a star receiver in the NFL from 1972 to 1982, playing his final seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. During his career he was named to the Pro Bowl four times, and in 1978 he was the Pro Bowl MVP. He scored 44 touchdowns, racked up over 6,800 yards, and made nearly 500 receptions. Since leaving the NFL he’s been a TV show host and is currently a sportscaster for NBC Sports.
Nazr Tahiru Mohammed. Born in Chicago, Nazr Tahiru Mohammed played 17 seasons in the NBA for eight teams, the last being his hometown Chicago Bulls. Playing the center position, he helped the San Antonio Spurs defeat the Detroit Pistons in 2005 NBA Championship game. During his college years he was part of two NCAA championship teams, playing for Kentucky Wildcats. In the NBA he regularly guarded against some of the best players in the league. He retired from the league in October this year.