His nine-year NBA career, spent with the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Vancouver Grizzlies, was marked by an appearance in the Slam Dunk Contest as well as by one of the most accurate free-throw shooting records ever. Considered one of the greatest free-throw shooters in the history of the game, Abdul-Rauf missed the all time free-throw shooting NBA season record by only a single miss in the 1995–96 season. He sparked controversy for refusing to stand for the national anthem, and calling the flag of the United States a symbol of oppression. After his NBA career, he played in multiple leagues around the world.
Abdul-Rauf was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, the son of Jacqueline Jackson. He was raised in a single-parent family, along with his two brothers, Omar and David. His childhood was characterized by poverty, as there were times that he and his brothers were not able to have proper nutrition. Abdul-Rauf missed the fourth grade and, later on, he was placed in special education classes. He suffered from a moderate form of Tourette syndrome, a condition that went undiagnosed until he was 17. Abdul-Rauf managed to overcome difficulties to become a basketball prodigy for Gulfport High School. In his senior season in high school he averaged 29.9 points and 5.7 assists per game and was called up to the McDonald's All-American Game. He was also named Mississippi Mr. Basketball twice, in 1987 and 1988.
Abdul-Rauf was a standout freshman for LSU scoring 48 points against Louisiana Tech, in just his third game for the school. He set the record in scoring for a freshman with 53 points against Florida. On March 4, 1989 he scored 55 against Ole Miss to break his own record, also setting career-high for three pointers made with 10. In the same game Ole Miss's Gerald Glass scored 53, making their 108 combined points the most ever by two players in a SEC game He appeared in 32 games in his freshman season, setting the NCAA record for points by a freshman (965) and points per game by a freshman (30.2). He was named SEC Player of the Year and First-team All-Americans. In his sophomore season, he produced similar numbers with his scoring average slightly falling to 27.8 per game. On February 10, 1990 he tied his career-high for three pointers made, while finishing the game with 49 points. He was named SEC Player of the Year and First-team All-American for a second year in a row.
Abdul-Rauf was selected with the third pick in the 1990 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. In his first season in the NBA he was selected in the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Despite the fact that he never dunked in an actual game, he participated in the 1993 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, after Nuggets president and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff sent NBA league officials a tape of Abdul-Rauf showcasing his dunking ability. Abdul-Rauf led the league in free throw percentage in the 1993–94 and 1995–96 seasons. He played with Denver until 1996, and was a key player on that team, winning the NBA Most Improved Player Award in 1993. In November 1995 he scored 30 points and a career-high 20 assists against the Phoenix Suns. On December 8, 1995 Abdul-Rauf posted a career-high 51 points against the Utah Jazz. In June 1996 he was traded to the Sacramento Kings in a deal that involved six players and three teams.
In 1998 Abdul-Rauf signed a two-year, $3.4 million contract with Fenerbahçe of the Turkish Basketball League. He left the club without finishing the season, stating he would retire from basketball due to loss of interest in the game. After not playing for the entire 1999–00 season he signed for to the Vancouver Grizzlies in August 2000. In December 2003 Abdul-Rauf signed for Ural Great of the Russian Basketball Super League. In 2004, he signed for Italian Serie A club Sedima Roseto. Averaging 18.4 points and 2.2 assists per game in the 2004–05 season he signed a contract with Udine in July 2005, but he sat out the entire season due to a torn achilles tendon. For the 2006–07 season, he came out of retirement for the third time in his career to play for Aris Thessaloniki. In November 2007 he signed a contract with Al-Ittihad of the Saudi Basketball League. In August 2009 he signed for bj league team Kyoto Hannaryz. He averaged 17.9 points in 38 games in his first season in Japan. In July 2010, he resigned with Kyoto Hannaryz for the 2010–11 season.
In 1991, he converted to Islam and changed his name from Chris Jackson to his current one in 1993. He is the father of five children. After his basketball career was over, Abdul-Rauf moved to Atlanta, since his house in his hometown was burned to the ground in 2001.
Abdul-Rauf is perhaps best known for the controversy created when he refused to stand for "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games, stating that the flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. He said that standing to the national anthem would, therefore, conflict with his Islamic beliefs. On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, costing Abdul-Rauf $31,707 per missed game. Two days later, he worked out a compromise with the league, whereby he would stand during the playing of the national anthem but could close his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited Islamic prayer during this time for those who are suffering from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds.
In an apparent publicity stunt linked to this controversy, four employees of Denver's KBPI radio station were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to entering a Colorado mosque and playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a bugle and trumpet, in a provocative response to Abdul-Rauf's refusal to stand for the national anthem. Like Abdul-Rauf, the DJs were briefly suspended but ultimately they publicly apologized and reconciled with the mosque community.