Jason Collins

Extra Pass: Jason Collins speaks loudly for progress

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When Michael Jordan played basketball with an unmatched competiveness, he was the same person who (allegedly) cheated while playing an old lady in cards.

When LeBron James makes a spectacularly unselfish pass on one possession and then preens after dunking on the next, he’s the same person who held a me-first nationally televised “Decision” that also raised money for the Boys & Girls Club.

When Jason Collins had more fouls (5) and turnovers (2) than points (0), rebounds (2), assists (0), steals (1) and blocks (0) in his landmark game Sunday, he was the same person who came out last April as the first active openly gay athlete in North America’s four major team sports.

I firmly believe the player you see on the court is the same person who leaves the arena at the end of the night to live the rest of his life. Some compartmentalize their lives more than others, taking one persona between the lines and another outside them. But that divergence is a choice by a singular human being.

Collins, more than anything, made a decision to stop compartmentalizing. He stopped living one portion of his life as a basketball player and one portion as gay. Everyone should expect the decency to live in a unified state of existence if they choose, and Collins shows why.

In any interview he’s done since coming out in Sports Illustrated, Collins sounds happy and comfortable.

He’s become an advocate for gay rights, an outspoken ambassador for the cause.

Which gets back to why Collins had such a strong performance Sunday.

All game, Collins was noticeably vocal on the court with his teammates.

Collins did that before coming out, and perhaps he’s always had this courage within himself to speak out. He just needed time and thought before channeling it into a new realm.

But on the basketball court? Nothing new at all. Communicating well – along with setting strong screens, physically boxing out and committing hard fouls – always made Collins successful without accumulating impressive box-score numbers.

Even at 35 – an age where many, myself included, wondered whether he could still compete at an NBA level – he was still deploying those same skills Sunday.

The Nets-Lakers game finished without incident, a welcome turn of non-events for those who’d anticipated this milestone for years.

At one point early in the fourth quarter, Collins wasn’t allowed into the game. Turned out, he hadn’t reached the scorers’ table quickly enough. At the next stoppage, he re-entered, and he got right back to talking to his teammates.

Collins cannot be silenced.

The Nets will be better for it. The NBA will be better for it. All professional sports will be better for it. The world will be better for it.

And, most importantly, Collins will be better for it.

Players being the same people they are on and off the court is a summation of how they carry themselves in both realms. The concept isn’t numerology, equating a players’ stats to their value as a human beings.

But on Sunday night, Collins was an exception. He finished +8 in 11 minutes, the best per-minute mark in the game.

This is who Collins is – a big positive.

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.