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Mike D'Antoni speaks out on John Lewis' legacy and voting rights

Mike D'Antoni speaks out on John Lewis' legacy and voting rights
Photo via: Salman Ali.

Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni came to his media availability Thursday afternoon dawning another "Vote" t-shirt. It's part of an ongoing trend that the 69-year-old head coach started after Civil Rights icon John Lewis passed nearly two weeks ago.

"I have people send them to me and I appreciate it," said D'Antoni, smiling. "There's a lot of people concerned about what's going on and the only way anything get[s] changed is voting."

Lewis' funeral was nationally broadcasted Thursday morning from Atlanta, Georgia and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were all in attendance and gave moving speeches and tributes. In light of this, D'Antoni was asked Thursday afternoon about Lewis' legacy and work on important issues such as voting rights.

"It's fundamental to our democracy," said D'Antoni. "One thing that's not talked about - we don't vote in mass enough. The percentage is way too low. [There are] too many obstacles put in front of people to deny them their constitutional right to vote. We have to strive to do better. His whole life was dedicated to that. And it'd be a great tribute to him to pass the Voter Act in his name that's on the Senate's desk and get it right."

The bill D'Antoni is referring to is H.R. 4, a measure to restore key elements of the Voting Rights Act that Lewis was instrumental to getting passed in 1965. The Act was stripped down in 2013 by the Supreme Court and since then, lawmakers in Washington have made several, organized pushes to restore those important provisions. After Lewis passed away, there was a new wave of energy to turn that bill into law and the House of Representatives even approved a proposal to rename the legislation after John Lewis. However, the bill has yet to be passed.

"Why are we even squabbling?" asked D'Antoni. "Why are we even having this discussion in a democracy where everybody has the right to vote and vote freely. [Do] whatever it takes - whether it's a expanded days [to vote] to make it easier for people, whether it's a national holiday. Whatever it takes to get every citizen the right to vote shouldn't be a discussion and it should already be done."

Several NBA players have taken on social causes that they feel strongly about in the Orlando bubble, including justice for the killing of 26-year-old Kentucky woman Breonna Taylor. While D'Antoni has generally not spoken out on social causes, he's been pretty skillful and vocal about voting rights while in Orlando.

"Again, when somebody has to devote their whole life's work to that, there's something wrong with what's going on," continued D'Antoni. "And this is what we're talking about. Hopefully we're all striving to get a more perfect union. You can't do that when there's racial injustice against the poor, whatever it is. We're not doing real well right now in how we're running things. Voting's the only answer - whatever way it is. If everybody has the right to vote, I think that's how things change and how things get better. That's how we get to a better place."

When asked about wearing the t-shirt to practice, D'Antoni cited "getting older" as part of the reason he's decided to speak up on this issue.

"When you're young, you think everything's good and you don't worry about these things, but we're in a time where you need to start doing your part," said D'Antoni. "The thing that everybody can do is vote. So, get out and register, take a friend, take a family. Just do it. Let's form a better union."

"Let's push America ahead and upwards and onwards," D'Antoni concluded.

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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