SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- After 744 games, four teams and nine early summers in a career he thought might be cursed, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is about to get his first taste of the postseason.
The Sacramento Kings' popular forward is headed to the playoffs for the first time in his decade in the NBA, ending the second-longest career with no postseason experience in league history. Sacramento clinched its spot with an easy win over the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night, and the celebrating Kings razzed Abdur-Rahim as much as they congratulated him.
"We were all in there just now trying to explain to Shareef what this is all about," Kings coach Rick Adelman said after emerging from the locker room. "We told him, 'You know, you get some extra money for this, too.' I'm really happy for him, and so is everybody in that room."
After the Kings finish the regular season against Seattle on Tuesday night, Abdur-Rahim will no longer be his generation's prototypical good player on a bad team. His playoff absence second only to that of 1970s star Tom Van Arsdale, who played in 929 games over a 12-year career without appearing in the postseason.
Abdur-Rahim took a huge pay cut and joined the Kings last August mainly because of their winning tradition, which included seven consecutive postseason trips under Adelman. They finally clinched the eighth after a tumultuous season in which Abdur-Rahim wondered whether his career-long losing malaise had followed him to Sacramento.
"It's great to finally get a chance to compete on the highest level, because that's why I play this game," Abdur-Rahim said. "But more than anything, I'm just glad I won't have to answer those questions any more. I was tired of that. [The media] has got to find some more stories now. You all probably won't talk to me any more."
Abdur-Rahim will be thrilled to pass the dubious honor of his streak among active players to Golden State Warriors center Adonal Foyle, who's expected to play his 593rd game on Wednesday night without a taste of the postseason.
Abdur-Rahim averaged 19.9 points and 8.1 rebounds in his first nine seasons with Vancouver, Atlanta and Portland. He made one All-Star team and annually racked up impressive statistics -- but his responsibilities overshadowed his abilities, and he was asked to carry too many teammates through too many tough stretches.
"He's been a great player in this league for a long time, but it's never just about one player," said Bonzi Wells, who's never missed the playoffs in eight NBA seasons with three teams.
Abdur-Rahim knew there's more to basketball than numbers, particularly after his big-money contract expired in Portland last year. He decided team success was his fondest desire as a free agent last summer.
"I think I've got some nice memories about my career already," he said. "I've had good times, but that's one thing I wouldn't like to keep on my resume, not making the playoffs."
Spurning bigger offers from lousier teams, he first signed with the talented New Jersey Nets last August -- but they curiously voided the deal over injury concerns.
He quickly joined the Kings, agreeing to a five-year contract for the midlevel salary-cap exception -- about $9 million less than he made in Portland last season.
Once he got into Sacramento's rotation, his sacrifices weren't finished. The longtime starter swallowed his pride and accepted a backup role behind Kenny Thomas and his fragile ego, agreeing it would be better for the team.
And then for a while, Abdur-Rahim could barely swallow at all. He broke his jaw in a collision with Portland's Zach Randolph in December, and the resulting surgery left him with his mouth wired shut.
The Kings estimated he would be out for two months, but Abdur-Rahim returned just 3½ weeks after the surgery, valiantly playing with the wires still in place. It was difficult to breathe or drink water on the bench, but his return sparked his teammates.
Then Ron Artest arrived in a trade with Indiana for Peja Stojakovic, and the Kings' turnaround began. Sacramento went from an 18-24 start to an outstanding finish, including eight wins in their last 10 games.
"When my jaw got broken, that really got to me," Abdur-Rahim said. "We were struggling as a team already, and now this. It feels good as a team to fight through all that and make the playoffs, and it feels even better because of the injury, and because of our slow start and all the distractions we fought