Saturday, May 26, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
When Shabazz Muhammad walked off the court in February following his final game for the Bishop Gorman High basketball team, the 6-foot-6 wing was noticeably missing an important part of his uniform: his shoes.
After Muhammad scored 36 points (30 in the first half) on 15-of-17 shooting to lead Gorman to the championship, the scene resembled most of his games the past year, with fans jockeying for pictures and autographs of the player expected to be the next Kobe or LeBron. Muhammad typically fielded every request — genuinely smiling for photos (I would, too, for the opposing team’s cheerleaders) and taking the time to make sure everyone had his signature.
On Sunday, readers will pick up Parade Magazine inserted into their newspaper and read what makes Muhammad the nation’s best high school basketball player. They’ll learn of an unmatched competitive nature and strong desire to be the best that started as a child, giving him the foundation to average 30 points and 10 rebounds per game this winter while playing against opponents trying to make a name for themselves.
Muhammad, the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruiting prospect who signed in April with UCLA, won virtually every major award this winter, including being Parade’s 56th annual All-America Basketball Player of the Year. He also was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-America Game and Jordan Brand Classic, was the ESPN and Morgan Wootten Player of the Year award winner, and scored an event-record 35 points in the Nike Hoop Summit.
While all of those accomplishments are impressive, and show he’s got the ability to become one of the all-time greats, they barely scratch the surface on what makes him the total package. That’s something witnessed during the postgame madness after the championship game at the Lawlor Events Center on the UNR campus.
Muhammad, without being instructed by his handlers, took off his game shoes, autographed them and gave them to a youngster in the crowd. While most of the autograph hounds got Muhammad’s signature on their game tickets, Fernando Rodarte, 13, had his signed all-white Air Jordans.
“They are going to be worth something one day,” Fernando told me that night. Muhammad’s autograph on a basketball already sells on eBay for $149.
Basketball fans surely know of Muhammad’s talent on the court. The lefty has a smooth shooting stroke from the outside, is fearless in taking the ball to the basket and is an excellent finisher (he also won the slam dunk contest at the McDonald’s game). However, what many fail to realize is the quality person he is off the court.
He has the respect of his teammates and friends, not only because of what he’s accomplished on the hardwood, but also because of how he’s just like them — a teenager with similar struggles and dreams of doing great things.
Imagine constantly being in the public eye and knowing every move you make is being documented or could wind up on the Internet. Imagine your cellphone constantly ringing with calls from coaches and media trying to find out your college plans.
For some, it would a terrible cross to bear.
That just wasn’t the case with Muhammad. He treated everyone the same, carried himself with a maturity and dignity not common for a teenager, and was more concerned with enjoying the moments of his senior year than being the face of high school basketball.
It would have been easy for Muhammad to walk around with an arrogant attitude, knowing the greener pastures ahead in his life were literally months away from becoming a reality. He didn’t fall into that trap.
And that’s why Shabazz Muhammad is that rare player we’ll probably never see again in Southern Nevada. He’s truly a superstar in the making.