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Bulls’ Mohammed confident and ready to back it up
by Sam Smith
Posted on Aug 8
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Nazr Mohammed has heard all this talk about the hole in the donut that is the Bulls’ upcoming season, a mound of sweetness with something missing in the middle, presumably a backup center.
But Mohammed says the Bulls should not worry.
“That’s how I look at it,” says the 15-year veteran from Kenwood Academy who’ll turn 36 next month. “That the Bulls have one of the best backup centers in the league. I think I’ve proven when given the opportunity, when called upon, that I did a solid job.
“I’ve gotten used to people always doubting the things you can do,” Mohammed offers with a sigh. “My fame is not one of flash. I’m not athletic or real fast. But I feel at the same time I’ve always gotten the job done, always contributed to my team. I think basketball people see that. I know at the end of the day I’ve got to impress one guy in particular, one guy I’m trying to make happy (coach Tom Thibodeau).”
But first Mohammed is about to make a lot of Chicago kids happy, among others.
Mohammed in his return to his native city last season to play for the Bulls held a charitable event to raise funds for capital improvements at his old high school, Kenwood.
That fundraiser was such a success that Mohammed is conducting his second annual this Friday, again at Pazzo’s, 311 S. Wacker, starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $75 at NazrMohammed.com and $100 at the door. Among the events will be auctions of celebrity memorabilia, including an authenticated signed Michael Jordan jersey from the 1997-98 championship season.
There’ll be a raffle with proceeds going again to Kenwood. But Mohammed is expanding the event to raise funds for three charities/civic organizations his NazrMohammed foundation will be supporting. In addition, he’ll be raising funds for a new program of his called The Village Project to hold a retreat for 100 Chicago high school students aged 14 through 18 to further positive role models in the community.
“The theme of the project is chasing dreams,” said Mohammed, “to let kids know that they can chase their wildest dreams and they are closer than they think.”
Just like Mohammed, the once portly high school kid and questionable prospect who played for collegiate and NBA championship teams.
In returning to and embracing Chicago again playing for the Bulls last season, Mohammed also decided to reach out to help support groups doing good work. He said he will announce the names of those groups his foundation will support Friday during the fundraising event.
“We’ve been researching groups locally who are doing good work and want to try to assist them,” says Mohammed. “They’ll be groups we believe in, liked what they are doing and felt comfortable with. Not every group is doing great work, but we want to be with ones who are.”
Mohammed said he worked with the Bulls to examine and accept various groups and agencies and is excited to be helping the community.
And Mohammed ended up helping the Bulls last season perhaps even more than expected, and he should be part of the regular rotation this season. Although there’s been talk the team wants to add another big man, Mohammed proved valuable late in the season when Joakim Noah missed 12 games with plantar fasciitis. Mohammed also had big roles in key Bulls playoff wins in the Brooklyn series, if perhaps his most notorious moment in the Miami series when he got into a fuss with LeBron James in Game 3 and James tumbled over backward after being pushed by Mohammed.
Mohammed expressed regret for losing his temper and being ejected early in the game when he felt he could have been more help. He said he was sorry as that was not the role model he wanted to be for his children. But Mohammed admits he hears more about that incident than much of anything even about his long career.
“It’s almost crazy,” Mohammad says with a laugh. “I won an NBA championship (2005 with the Spurs), I won two college championships (1996 and 1998 at Kentucky) and all that people remember is pushing down LeBron. I don’t consider that a highlight.”
Mohammed, though friendly and approachable, is serious minded and a tough self critic. When asked about highlights to the past season, Mohammed says initially just being able to help the team.
“My highlights?” he asks. “I don’t think I had any particular highlights. I’m so hard on myself going back looking at everything that happened. I guess you can say when Jo got hurt and I got the opportunity that was my highlight. I showed I could hold down the fort and be a stable and quality contributor. I’d say that was my highlight.”
When pressed, Mohammed did volunteer that, yes, that Game 4 against Brooklyn was enjoyable.
That was when after Nate Robinson’s fabulous finish to get the game to overtime, in the third overtime it was Mohammed after sitting the fourth quarter and overtimes making the big basket and retrieving a Carlos Boozer missed free throw to clinch and save the game.
“Yes, I guess that was my highlight,” said Mohammed, “getting around (Andray Blatche) and getting that ball that helped seal the game.”
Mohammed rarely played the first three months of last season as he adjusted to the Bulls and Thibodeau adjusted to him. But Mohammed always has been known as a good teammate and strong figure within his teams. So he waited patiently, and then when called upon he produced.
He averaged 2.6 points and 3.1 rebounds last season. But 7.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 12 starts and 6.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in April when he substituted for the injured Noah and Taj Gibson.
“It was one of those situations, a new team and coach and having to get more comfortable with one another,” says the 6-10 center. “It’s like you have to pretty much prove to the coach and earn his respect. Plus, I still was learning the system. So it took a while for him to get comfortable with me. But I feel I was able to help the team.”
And come up with his share of highlights along the way. Here’s a look at the Nasty Nazr Nine for the 2012-13 season:
1. April 27. Playoff Game 4 against Brooklyn: Mohammed has nine points and six rebounds in 19 minutes, including the score and rebound that effectively sealed the Bulls amazing 142-134 triple overtime win.
2. April 22. Playoff Game 2 against the Nets: With Joakim Noah starting slowly after a poor Game 1 when the Nets blew out the Bulls, Mohammed had an early three-point play and back to back baskets to help the Bulls to an early lead. He finished with eight points in 18 minutes, and then Noah was able to finish with a strong fourth quarter to save a 90-82 win and put the Bulls back in the series. Thibodeau stayed with Mohammed for size after going small in Game 1 and it helped shut off the Nets’ inside game.
3. April 4 in a 92-90 victory in Brooklyn: With Noah out, Mohammed had four points and nine rebounds. But he saved the game down the stretch, forcing Brook Lopez into a turnover with 33 seconds left and then blocking an attempted Lopez winner with 6.6 seconds remaining.
4. March 23 in 87-84 win over the Pacers, the Bulls only win over Indiana during the season: Mohammed held down Roy Hibbert and with Noah out had 11 points, seven rebounds with five offensive and three assists in 31 minutes.
5. March 24 in a 104-97 win in Minnesota: Starting in his second of a back to back set, Mohammed grabs a then season high 10 rebounds in just 22 minutes in the Bulls win, showing the stamina that belied his 14 years in the NBA.
6. April 12 in a 97-88 loss in Toronto: With Noah and Gibson out injured and Carlos Boozer fouling out, Mohammed plays 43 minutes and gets 16 points and 13 rebounds going 43 minutes.
7. April 17 in a 95-92 win over Washington: In the final game of the regular season with Noah and Gibson merely testing themselves and their injuries, Mohammed leads the team to a win with 17 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes.
8. April 2 in a 90-86 loss in Washington: With Noah, Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton out, Gibson getting hurt and Kirk Hinrich ejected, Mohammed has 12 points and 12 rebounds in 36 minutes and a late tip-in that could have given the Bulls the lead waved off in a controversial finish like Noah’s waved off tip-in against Denver.
9. The flop! Sorry, Nazr. May 10 as Miami pulls away in the fourth quarter for a 104-94 win to give them a 2-1 lead in the conference semifinals. In what became an ugly series after the Bulls won Game 1 and Miami retaliated physically in Game 2, Mohammed got into an altercation with LeBron James in the second quarter with the Bulls leading. Mohammed reacted with a push back at James, who pitched backward as if shot in what Thibodeau called a flop. It would become a stand up moment for a somewhat embarrassed Mohammed. And increasingly famous as this YouTube video suggests.