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

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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.

 

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.