AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

FIBA will now allow basketball players to wear hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes

2 Comments

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Basketball enthusiasts around the world said a decision to allow players to wear religious headgear in competition will encourage more people to play the sport because it gives participants the right to practice their faith and focus on playing ball.

The unanimous vote Thursday by international basketball’s governing body, known as FIBA, allows female players to wear hijabs and male players to wear turbans and yarmulkes following a ban initially imposed for safety reasons 20 years ago. In 2014, FIBA allowed a two-year testing phase for head coverings.

“I think we came out in a good place, at the right place,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, who is on the FIBA executive committee. “I think it’s a good step for FIBA to put this issue kind of behind it and go from there.”

Iranian national basketball team player Shadi Abdolvand said basketball will change in Iran because younger players will be encouraged to “pursue their goals.”

“The end of this month there is a Western Asian tournament and we were looking forward to hearing the news that we can take part,” she said. The team’s dream is to compete with the world’s top players and “see if we can get much better than what we are now,” she said.

The effort to push the governing body to change its regulations dates back several years. Other sports, including soccer, had already relaxed such regulations.

Athlete Ally – an organization dedicated to end homophobia and transphobia in sports and to educate athletic communities to stand up against discrimination – joined with Shirzanan, a media and advocacy organization for Muslim female athletes, to send a letter to FIBA on Jan. 25, urging leaders to “immediately lift the ban on religious headgear.” The letter was signed by many WNBA players, including rookie of the year Breanna Stewart.

That letter came a few years after American-Muslim basketball player Indira Kajlo helped campaign to have FIBA loosen its restrictions on headgear. She started an online petition that drew around 70,000 signatures. She also worked with members of the Sikh community in India, as well as hearing from women in Turkey, Sweden and the UK who expressed their support.

Kajlo, who has played professionally in Ireland and Bosnia, said she had to choose between her faith and the sport she loved when she decided to wear the hijab a few years ago.

“It’s a horrible feeling. There’s nothing in the world like having to choose between your faith and something you love,” she said.

FIBA’s decision comes a month after Nike released its first sport hijab for Muslim women.

One of the designers of the Nike Pro Hijab, Emirati weightlifter Amna al-Haddad, said in an online post after its release in March that without pressure from Muslim female athletes to train, exercise and compete in hijab, Nike would not have created the sport hijab. She said allowing more women to compete in modest attire “will encourage a new generation of athletes to pursue sports professionally.”

Muslim female athletes have long fought to have the right to play the sport of their choice in modest attire and in hijab.

For the 2012 London Olympics, the International Olympic Committee and the International Judo Federation agreed to allow Saudi judo player Wojdan Shahrkhani to compete while wearing a headscarf. She made history that year as one of the first Saudi women to ever compete in the Olympics.

American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first athlete to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Rio Olympics, earning a bronze medal as part of Team USA.

“When other Arab women see a Muslim playing professionally, that encourages them to play as well. There’s no reason for them not to play now, nothing is stopping them,” said Salim al-Mutawa’a, the head of the United Arab Emirates’ Basketball Association.

Still, women’s access to sports remains limited in some Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, where physical education is still not on the curriculum in public schools for girls. Ultraconservatives have pushed back against efforts by women to play sports, saying it blurs gender lines and is immodest.

Lina Almaeena helped found one of Saudi Arabia’s first private sports clubs for women, called Jeddah United. The women’s basketball team has participated in tournaments abroad. She says FIBA’s decision reconfirms that the Olympic charter “is real and does enable everyone to participate regardless of their background.”

“For the women who stopped playing sports because of the ban, it is a huge deal,” Almaeena said.

 

Charlotte awarded 2019 NBA All-Star Game

Leave a comment

This isn’t a surprise.

Disappointing by the NBA, but not a surprise.

A month after the NBA Board of Governors cleared the way for the NBA’s showcase All-Star Game to return to Charlotte — saying the steps the state took to reverse the controversial “bathroom bill” that cost the state the 2017 game were enough — the NBA has awarded the 2019 game to Charlotte.

“For three decades, the NBA has had a home in Charlotte. Generations of families have attended games there, and fans from many different walks of life have come together to share a passion for a team that is an anchor in the community,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “We have decided to award NBA All-Star 2019 to Charlotte based on this deep connection and the belief that we can honor our shared values of equality and inclusion, and we are excited to bring the All-Star Game back to Charlotte for the first time in 28 years.

“While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law. Additionally, it allows us to work with the leadership of the Hornets organization to apply a set of equality principles to ensure that every All-Star event will proceed with open access and anti-discrimination policies. All venues, hotels and businesses we work with during All-Star will adhere to these policies as well.”

“We are thrilled the league has awarded NBA All-Star 2019 to the city of Charlotte,” Hornets primary owner Michael Jordan said. “All-Star Weekend is an international event that will provide a tremendous economic impact to our community while showcasing our city, our franchise and our passionate Hornets fan base to people around the world.”

The weekend of events will take place Friday through Sunday, Feb. 15-17, 2019, mostly at The Spectrum Center in uptown Charlotte. (The 2018 All-Star Game is in Los Angeles.)

All the controversy was due to the discriminatory bill HB2, commonly called “the bathroom law,” which was passed by the North Carolina legislature in 2016. The law restricted transgender bathroom use (you had to use the bathroom for the gender with which you were born) and preempted anti-discrimination ordinances put in by Charlotte and other North Carolina cities that tried to block discrimination against gays and lesbians. The NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from the city, one of a number of events that pulled, or businesses that reduced their footprint in the state due to the bill, ultimately costing North Carolina $3.76 billion in economic impact, according to an Associated Press report.

The repeal of the law was not complete, some LBGT restrictions remained in place, such as a ban on cities (such as Charlotte) passing any nondiscrimination ordinances covering sexual orientation until 2020. Gay-rights advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union, and mayors from multiple other cities (which did not lift their government business travel bans to the state) said the compromise repeal did not go far enough. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who was elected in part due to this issue, said this compromise repeal was the best that the legislature would approve.

This was not enough of a repeal. The NBA returning the All-Star Game to Charlotte is the moral and economic equivalent of liking a post on Facebook complaining about Chick-fil-A’s history of anti-LGBT donations and activism, then going and eating at the restaurant.

But the NBA is a business and it wants to make that fan base happy. No doubt Jordan and his ownership group have brought stability to the franchise and worked hard to rebuild an NBA market that the previous owner had completely destroyed (ending with George Shin moving his team to New Orleans, if it wasn’t for Donald Sterling Shin would be seen as maybe the worst NBA owner of the past couple decades).

So the 2019 game is headed to Buzz City.

Pau Gasol on Warriors: “In all my years in the league, they’re playing at the highest level right now”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pau Gasol has two rings from playing alongside Kobe Bryant on a Phil Jackson coached team in Los Angeles. He knows what elite basketball looks like.

And he’s very impressed with the Golden State Warriors.

Via Courtney Cronin of the San Jose Mercury News.

“They’re in a groove,” Gasol said. “They know what it takes to win and obviously they’ve been champions, they’ve established records that have never been set before and they’re on a path to get another championship. In all my years in the league, they’re playing at the highest level right now.”

This kind of praise was heaped on the Warriors last year, but Cleveland was able to come from 3-1 down in the Finals. Cleveland is an excellent team led by the best player on the planet.

Still, this year feels different. As Boston has shown in recent games, Cleveland’s help defense can be exposed with good ball and player movement. And even if the Cavaliers can again slow down Stephen Curry, this year there is Kevin Durant, too.

Danny Green was one who thinks the Cavaliers have a chance.

“They’re a great team, but Cleveland’s a great team, too,” Spurs forward Danny Green said. “Cleveland’s done it before. Do I think they can do it again? It’s possible. I wouldn’t say anything’s impossible. It’s a really good team and they have pretty good chances if they stay healthy and keep rolling like they are to win again.”

Kyrie Irving rubs salt in wound, gets 42nd point with behind-the-back ball fake (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Kyrie Irving was awesome Tuesday night.

Unless you are a Boston Celtics fan, in which case it was hard to watch him carve up and embarrass your team for a career-best 42 points. He did a lot of that damage after rolling his ankle.

Particularly embarrassing was the final play of the game, when he drove past Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, then went with the behind-the-back ball fake that burned Jae Crowder and opened up a lane for an uncontested layup.

Check out Irving’s entire night here.

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma reportedly rising up draft boards

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma wasn’t sure how things would play out when he announced plans in late March to test the NBA draft. The Utah Utes junior forward was well aware of the doubters and didn’t immediately hire an agent to keep open the option to return for his senior year.

A month later, Kuzma has hired an agent and is rising up the pre-draft rankings after a superb NBA combine and strong individual workouts. He’s considered an early to mid second round pick.

“I just got more confident, I’m not going to lie, throughout the whole process,” Kuzma said Tuesday. “Working out every day with the NBA ball and just imagining yourself down the road. Once I declared with an agent prior to the combine, people’s ears raised up. But I just knew it in my heart it was the right decision for me. Everything’s really falling in line right now. It’s looking good.”

The Flint, Michigan, native had a pre-draft workout with the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and continued to show evaluators an ability to shoot the ball from NBA 3-point range. Kuzma was named first-team All-Pac-12 after a 2016-17 season during which he averaged 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 223-pounder has a versatile game that allows him to handle the ball on the perimeter as a playmaker with good size, but he shot just 32.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Kuzma turned heads with 20 points and four-for-five shooting on 3-pointers in his lone 5-on-5 scrimmage at the combine.

“I changed my jump shot up a little bit,” Kuzma said. “Being more fluid and more comfortable shooting the ball from the NBA 3. I feel like I’m more comfortable shooting from that 3 than from college 3 right now. A lot of people were surprised, but I really wasn’t. I put a lot of work into my game every single day.”

Kuzma had another quality workout Tuesday, according to Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin, and continued to shoot the ball well. Perrin said Kuzma was by far the best player at the six-man workout and that he wished he could have brought Kuzma in to face a more talented group.

The versatility of Kuzma’s game is a positive even though he falls into a tweener category – a little slight to be a true power forward and not quite quick enough to be a pure small forward. That may not matter in today’s NBA.

“We’re going more and more toward positionless players,” Perrin said. “You look at Golden State … they don’t have guys that play certain positions. They have the best players on their team playing. … We’ve gone to nobody posting up, basically, to everybody being able to put the ball on the floor and create shots on the perimeter, penetrate and kick to guys wide open in the corner for threes.

“The guys on the floor have to be able to guard their so-called position. And I think we’re looking more and more at that in terms of he can have an advantage on offense, but where is his disadvantage or advantage defensively?”

The Utes were well represented at the workout with forward David Collette joining the group.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder hasn’t hired an agent and is expected to return to school. Perrin couldn’t discuss Collette because of that, and he couldn’t talk to the media, but Kuzma said the rising senior showed off a newly refined midrange jump shot. The Utes will rely heavily on Collette as the lone returning starter, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season.

Utah will lose its best player to the NBA draft for a third consecutive season as Kuzma follows Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. The process has kept Kuzma smiling as he met childhood idol Magic Johnson, watched his stock rise and is on the verge of playing basketball for a living.

“I feel like you’ve got to be two feet in with everything you do,” Kuzma said. “I definitely looked at the pros and cons, but my heart was in getting to this level and trying to prove people wrong again like I’ve done my entire life.”