Chorus of praise from Obama, others for Jason Collins shows times, they are a changin’

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Six years ago retired NBA player John Amaechi came out and announced he was gay after a four-teams-in-five-years NBA career. The reaction was decidedly mixed within the basketball community. What we all remember most was Tim Hardaway saying, “I hate gay people” (a stance he has since recanted).

There was a smattering of hate when Jason Collins came out as a gay man on Monday, but the tone was largely different — like polls have shown America’s attitude has shifted on the issue of gay and lesbian rights, the attitude of the NBA community has shifted. Collins spoke with Amaechi before making his announcement, but the reaction — including some very thoughtful journalism — is the sign of the steps we as a nation are taking toward acceptance, particularly among younger generations. And NBA is a young man’s game. There are many more steps to take, but some have been clearly taken.

In a sign of that, a number of players — including Kobe Bryant, a guy once fined for using a gay slur on the court — quickly came to Collins’ support. Then there was the call Collins got from President Barack Obama.

Hours after Collins disclosed his sexuality in an online article, Obama reached out by phone, expressing his support and telling Collins he was impressed by his courage, the White House said.

In the past couple years I was in an NBA locker room pregame (along with another reporter) speaking casually with guys getting ready for warm-ups when the topic of having a gay teammate came up (no, I’m not naming the players in an off-the-record conversation). One player said he would uncomfortable with an openly gay teammate. But the guy at the next locker looked up and piped in with a question “Can the guy play?” And among younger players that seems to be the focus — if he can contribute they don’t care what he does off the court. NBA players are protective of their privacy and are willing to extend that courtesy to others.

There has been a reaction from some that “is this a big deal?” But it is because unlike going into law or medicine or insurance sales, the professional team sport locker room was one last inhospitable work environment for gays.

Collins has helped changed that. You can bet there are other gay athletes right now in other American team sports who feel empowered by what Collins did. Amaechi told the AP that younger gay athletes also saw what Collins did and it gave them hope.

“I’m getting tons of messages right now from people talking to me about him, about what he’s done,” Amaechi told The Associated Press. “I’ve spoken to a couple of college athletes in the States and a couple of high school athletes who are very good who have been immensely buoyed by this news. They feel a weight lifted off them even if they aren’t out and they aren’t going to come out at this point.”

It’s another step in the march we as a nation are taking on the issue. Not everyone is going to come along but the path the nation is on with this issue is pretty clear. (Why do you think so many career politicians are changing their views on this? Self-preservation is a strong political instinct.)

Collins has taken a bold step. But the tone of the reactions just six years later shows how many steps we have already taken on this issue.

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.

Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not travel with team for 25 days due to legal issue

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The Lakers’Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his new team’s first two games this season due to a suspension for a DUI case in Michigan.

But that was not all. Caldwell-Pope’s came with probation, and to get out of it early the Lakers’ forward has to go through an intensive rehab program — one that does not allow him to leave California with the team for 25 days. He did not play against the Cavaliers and that is just the first of multiple games he will miss, a story broken by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Caldwell-Pope was originally cited for operating a vehicle while intoxicated but pleaded guilty in May to the lesser charge of allowing someone to operate his vehicle while under the influence, which carried a 12-month probation.

On Thursday, Caldwell-Pope had to return to California to begin an intensive program over the next 25 days that will result in some travel restrictions and could cause him to miss additional games but will end his probation early.

The Lakers are in a home heavy part of their schedule, and by my calculations KCP would only miss one or two games (for sure against Houston Dec. 20, then maybe against Golden State Dec. 22, but that is in California). The Lakers next road game after that is Dec. 31 in Houston again.

Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Lakers last offseason, and he has gone on to become one of the few reliable three-point shooters on the team, hitting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, taking 6.1 shots from there a game. He’s been solid on defense and a player the Lakers’ need, although his overall efficiency is closer to average.

If the Lakers are successful with their big game hunting during free agency next summer, Caldwell-Pope will not return to the team. In a tight free agent market, he may once again not see offers near what he sees himself worth next summer. That said, his play in Los Angeles has been good. And now he will not have this legal issue hanging over his head during free agency.

LeBron James is good with televising All-Star team selections

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From the moment the NBA announced changes to the All-Star Game team selection format for this season, most NBA fans — as well as most media members I know — have wanted a live team selection show.

As a reminder, this year (as in past years) fans will vote for their favorite All-Stars, and those votes will be combined with media and player votes to name the five starters from each conference. Then the coaches will vote to select the teams.

What’s different is the top vote-getters from each conference — let’s be honest, it will be LeBron James in the East and Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the West — will be named captains and they will then pick their teams from the pool of other selected players. No East vs. West. If LeBron gets to choose first and he picks James Harden, then Harden is on that team. Curry can go second and select Giannis Antetokounmpo or whoever he wants from the starters pool, then the captains move into the reserves pool. Old-school playground style team picking.

Who wouldn’t tune it to watch that selection show?

The NBA officially has not decided yet if the selection process will be broadcast, but it probably won’t be. The reason is some player is not going to like being picked last (or next to last) and his agent will like it less. It gets political (would Curry have to choose Durant or Draymond Green first to keep his teammates happy?).

LeBron basically said Saturday why not televise it? From Nick Friedell of ESPN, when LeBron was asked if it would bother him to go against teammates in the All-Star Game:

“I hope not,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “We’re all grown men. It doesn’t stop their paycheck from coming. It won’t stop you from playing time once the season starts.”

And is he good with the pick order being made public or done live.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if I’m rewarded to be a part of the All-Star Game again, that’s cool for me. It doesn’t matter. All that other stuff is extracurricular.”

That’s the right attitude, and whoever got picked last would say that publicly. But privately… who knows? Depends on the guy.

That selection show would be must-watch television. The NBA needs to broadcast this. But it won’t. Politics will win out.