Little-known UCLA tailback Sharmon Shah, the leading returning rusher in the Pacific-10 Conference, won’t have to worry about publicity anymore. Shah, a practicing Muslim, has adopted the name that was given to him last month: Karim Abdul-Jabbar. Not Kareem, the instantly recognizable name of the Hall of Fame basketball player for the Bruins from 1967 to ‘69, but Karim. (The pronunciation is the same.)
By coincidence, or perhaps not, Karim wears No. 33, the number Kareem wore at UCLA, when he was Lew Alcindor.
The former Shah, who will be a fourth-year junior this season, turned down an interview request. But assistant sports information director Rich Bertolucci has spoken to him and recounts the following story.
Shah turned 21 last month, when he reaffirmed his faith. Upon doing so, a Muslim is given a name by an imam (a Muslim leader). Some Muslims, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, choose to use the name. Others, such as former Bruins basketball coach Walt Hazzard, do not (though he did for awhile as a player).
Bertolucci says when Shah received his name, he asked the imam, “Do you realize I play at UCLA?” The imam said he did but the discussion ended there. “Sharmon didn’t choose to change it or argue with the guy,” says Bertolucci, who then corrected himself. “It was Karim’s decision to use it.”
Karim Abdul-Jabbar, a 5-foot-11, 189-pound Los Angeles native, rushed for 1,227 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Bruins, who endured a significant number of injuries en route to a 5-6 record. He finished second in the Pac-10 to Napoleon Kaufman of Washington and 20th in NCAA Division I-A, and his teammates named him a captain last year.
Without question, Shah’s new name will draw attention. Shah attends Abdul-Jabbar’s university. He wears Abdul-Jabbar’s number.
At Kareem Productions in Los Angeles, a recorded message said no one was in the office. According to Bertolucci, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says he found the name change, “interesting.”
Maryland quarterback Scott Mi lanovich - and the rest of the Terrapins - received a last-minute reprieve from the NCAA eligibility committee. Upon Milanovich’s appeal, the committee reduced his suspension for gambling from eight games to four.
“I made a terrible mistake… . I certainly recognized my mistake,” Milanovich says. “I knew I was in the wrong, and I was prepared to accept any punishment that was handed down. When I found out I was suspended for eight games, I was pretty baffled. I couldn’t believe it.”