Bigger than basketball

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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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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