His nickname is “Manimal” and, in just two seasons in the NBA, Kenneth Faried is establishing himself as one of the game’s bright young stars with the Denver Nuggets.
As tough and focused as the 23-year-old is on the court, off it Faried has forged a reputation as both thoughtful and caring – and unafraid to take a stand on an issue many professional athletes won’t dare to venture.
The Nuggets were in Toronto on Tuesday to play the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. And once again it was Rudy Gay who found a way to win, connecting on a 17-foot, pull-up jumper with just 4.8 seconds left to lift the Raptors (20-32) to an exciting 109-108 victory over the Nuggets (33-20).
Earlier in the day, an announcement came out of New York that Faried has joined forces with Athlete Ally, a U.S.-based organization working to raise awareness and eradicate homophobia in sports.
It is a subject Faried takes seriously and one he obviously has some insights into, being the proud son of lesbian “moms” who were legally married in New Jersey in 1997.
Faried said he hopes by lending his name to the cause he can help spread a message of inclusiveness surrounding gay issues throughout not only the NBA, but the United States and Canada.
“I support my moms and I support whoever else wants to be married to the same sex,” Faried said in an interview. “It doesn’t matter to me, just as long as you’re happy.”
Homophobia in sports continues to be a hot-button topic despite the efforts of the pro athletes on Athlete Ally’s roster, including NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo (Baltimore Ravens), Chris Kluwe (Minnesota Vikings) and Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns).
Last summer, it garnered plenty of unwanted headlines for former Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar, who played a game with a gay slur (written in Spanish) on his eye-black.
Escobar was suspended for three games and later was traded to the Miami Marlins.
More recently, it was Chris Culliver, a cornerback with the San Francisco 49ers, who chose the pulpit of the Super Bowl week to say he would not welcome a gay player in the locker room.
Faried, who is a solid 6-foot-8 and weighs 228 pounds, said he never really had to worry about unwelcome comments from people after they learned he was being raised by two mothers.
“I didn’t really care what they had to say,” he said. “And if they had anything sarcastic or smart to say, then they had to deal with me.”
Denver is considered among the elite in the NBA this season, with a triple-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics last Sunday bringing a halt to a nine-game win streak. Still, the Nuggets were a hurting group heading into Toronto, and were missing two starters: shooting guard Andre Iguodala (neck strain) and power forward Danilo Gallinari (sinus infection).
Toronto head coach Dwane Casey was not finding any solace in Denver’s miseries.
“A wounded dog is worse than a dog that just got through eating,” Casey said. “It’s one of those things that scares me more. Somebody’s going to step up. It’s almost like addition by subtraction.”
On Tuesday, Gay was hampered by early foul trouble and the Raptors had to look for offence elsewhere. Into the breach stepped backup point guard John Lucas, who, at one point in the fourth quarter, hit four in a row from three-point territory.
But the Nuggets and their lightning-fast offence kept pace and a Corey Brewer layup knotted the score at 102-102 with little more than three minutes to play.
With 20.9 seconds left, and the Nuggets holding a 108-107 lead, the Raptors called a timeout to discuss strategy – but everybody knew that the ball would wind up in Gay’s hands.
Sure enough, after guard Kyle Lowry took the inbounds pass, he let the clock wind down before moving the ball to the right side where Gay did his thing, calming hitting the big shot to win the game.