Kenneth Faried makes moms proud
DENVER -- Minutes after Jason Collins revealed he was gay on April 29, a certain Denver Nugget fired up his iPhone to send out an urgent tweet. He wanted to be the first to give a standing ovation, the first to say the world was a better place. It took him about 60 seconds to type his words in, and, presto, Kenneth Faried was in the fray again:
Wow this is amazing all smiles. So so happy Jason Collins came out &announce he was openly GAY…ALL SUPPORT OVER HERE #ATHLETEALLY #LGBT
Predictably, there were immediate tweets about his tweet. Some were heartfelt and upbeat:
Choosing new fave NBA players based off Jason Collins reactions; shout out to Kenneth Faried for the best one.
But others were darts right back at him:
Kenneth Faried supporting Jason Collins … he a f** too
Kenneth Faried a lil too happy Jason Collins came out the closet lol
I'm not a hater, but I dunno how I feel about Kenneth Faried's tweet about Jason Collins. You happy to find out a man is gay?
It was like grade school all over again -- Kenneth Faried being called "gay boy" … Kenneth Faried wanting to ball up his fists … Kenneth Faried having to stick up for his mom … and his other mom.
Every rebound tells a story. So Kenneth Faried has hundreds of them. His first tale is about his father, Kenneth Lewis, and his mother, Waudda Faried, who weren't a couple as much as they were basketball buddies. The two had met while Waudda was working at a warehouse in Newark, N.J., and although they never married, they would together take their young son, Kenneth, to Newark's inner-city blacktops.
At first, 5-year-old Kenneth used to watch from a bench while Waudda and Kenneth Sr. played in pickup games. Waudda would be the only female on the court, but because she tied her hair into tight braids, wore a baggy shirt and was fearless on the court, she'd unintentionally blend in with no one knowing. That's how talented she was. She had been a star player in high school, the kind of baller who could either lower her shoulder on her way to the basket or step back to shoot the 3. She would also talk ad nauseam. Whenever she'd drain a shot, she'd yap, "Can't guard me" or "Gonna be a long night." If one of her male opponents got riled up, Kenneth Sr. would protect her. There was never a dull moment.
Not that 5-foot-11 Waudda would ever back down. Few people, male or female, had more of a chip on their shoulders, and she never cared to explain why. The bottom line was, her whole existence centered on rebounding. A rebound on the basketball court meant she had battled, sacrificed and aided her team. A rebound off the court meant she had persevered through a harrowing experience at home. In either case, a rebound signified wherewithal and strength to her. And good God, if anyone knew what was hanging over her head, they would've understood why she rarely smiled.
It took even Kenneth Sr. a while to understand her gruff exterior. The first time he'd ever seen her, in the warehouse cafeteria, a co-worker had told him, "Bet she can beat you at ball." Waudda was wearing an Orlando Magic sweatsuit and a baseball cap turned sideways, and Kenneth Sr.'s response was, "Yeah, right." Waudda had overheard the conversation and blurted "F--- you" in Kenneth Sr.'s direction. He told her, "You don't even know me!" He was nauseated.
Eventually, though, a buddy set Kenneth and Waudda up on a blind date. He didn't particularly want to go. But basketball provided them with common ground, and after a few weekends together at the local playground, a relationship evolved. They always made sure to play on the same team and go out for a bite afterward. They were inseparable, and, soon, Waudda was pregnant with Kenneth Jr. Any son of theirs was going to be a ballplayer, and, by the time Kenneth Jr. was 9, he was already begging into their pickup games.
They were all for it, but first they had to toughen him up. This was Newark, for God's sake -- not to mention this was Waudda's son. She would never allow him to be soft. She had her reasons. So before she even let him step foot into their pickup games, she told him they were never, ever going to pass him the ball. Forget it, she harrumphed. She told him if he wanted to shoot, he'd have to rebound first.
"Rebound? A rebound? Really, Mom?" he said.
"Really, Kenneth. Yeah, a rebound, yeah," she said.
It was no lie. That was Waudda. Rebound or die.
She really thought she was dying. And that explained the chip on her shoulder, the vulgarities, everything.
As a young girl, growing up in an ornery part of Newark, Waudda had watched her mother deteriorate because of lupus, an autoimmune disease that often shuts down a person's major organs. Lupus was also hereditary, and Waudda was under the clear assumption that she would be affected by it someday. "I played basketball to keep her illness out of my head," she says.
Playing ball beat sitting in the dark, anyway. Waudda's mother had to deal with enormous headaches and would keep the lights in their apartment off 24/7. When the pain grew unbearable, Waudda and her two sisters would rush their mother to the hospital, sometimes three times a week. Waudda's most persistent emotion became anger, and when her mom died on Mother's Day in 1989, Waudda was three months pregnant with Kenneth Jr., and in turmoil.
Her only comfort came from a conversation she had had with her mother hours before she died. Her mom had tenderly touched her stomach and said, "That's my grandson. Take care of him." Waudda had wept, and she remembers, "It made me show my son how to fight.''
On that same deathbed, Waudda's mother had talked to Kenneth Sr. about marrying Waudda, and, at one point, that was the couple's intention. When Kenneth Jr. was born, they lived together, with the usual hopes and dreams. But some things weren't right with Waudda. Not only was she confused about how she felt about Kenneth Sr., her head began to ache chronically. Her baby was now 2 years old, and she knew what was going on: She had lupus.
So that was Kenneth Faried's childhood: a loving mother in pain, a loving father who played basketball with her until she couldn't play anymore and a house with no lights on.
Waudda was living her mother's life all over again, and because she had no idea how long she would live, she felt an urgency to turn her young son into a man. If that meant taking him to a Newark blacktop and ordering him to rebound at all costs, so be it. If that meant informing him that she and his father were not ever going to marry, so be it. If that meant telling him she was more attracted to women than men, so be it.
The chat with her son about her sexual preference happened when Kenneth Jr. was about 9. He had first asked his mom and dad why they weren't married and whether he was ever going to have a brother and sister. Waudda and Kenneth Sr. told him that they cared for each other, that they would always be in each other's lives. But they said the timing just wasn't right for marriage.
Separately, Waudda told her son that she had feelings for women, and she used this word he hadn't heard: lesbian.
"I was shocked," Kenneth says. "I said I didn't really understand it, and she broke it down saying that she dates women and she wouldn't date a man anymore. She wouldn't be with a man at all.
"And then I came in and said, 'Ma, if you like women, am I supposed to like men? Because you're my role model.' And she said, 'No, no,' and she laughed, and she was, 'Whatever you're happy with. You can like women, you can like men, whatever you're happy with, you're perfectly fine.' And I said, 'OK, fine. Then I like the same things you like.'"
An impressionable Kenneth was now convinced that, just like his mom, he should be attracted to the same sex. The next time he saw his father, he was in somewhat of a panic, and Kenneth Sr. explained, "Listen, this don't mean that through life you gonna be with a man. This means everybody got their own choice of who they want to be with. So that is your mom's choice. That don't mean that daddy go with a man."
Kenneth Jr.'s soul-searching continued, nonetheless. He would eyeball the boys and girls at school and contemplate who caught his fancy. In the meantime, Waudda had introduced him to her first live-in girlfriend, a heavy-set woman he says bossed him a little too much for his taste. Eventually, he says, there was a shouting match between the girlfriend and Waudda. He intervened, saying now, "I went in there swinging. Like I didn't care how big the person was; I was going to stand up for what I thought was right."
Waudda and the woman broke up. It was a disconcerting time in Kenneth's life, and when he was an 11-year-old fifth-grader, his head was still spinning over his sexuality. "I knew I didn't find men attractive; I always wanted a female," he says. "But I looked up to my mother, so I thought that maybe that is what I was supposed to do: follow her footsteps and like the same sex, also.
"I was at the curiosity age when I started to really develop. I started to become a man, so it was interesting to see what attracted me. And I would dance with girls at parties and started to talk on the phone more to females. I never had an attraction to a man, so I knew I liked females and wanted to be with females."
It was a freeing moment for him, but he still had the big bad world to deal with. When Waudda would drop by his school, she looked and dressed masculine. She would wear slacks, dress shoes and a sweater or sweatsuits with a ball cap. Her shoulders were broad from doing pushups at the local track. Her voice was more bass than alto.
Fifth-graders can be cruel, and when they began calling Waudda "Mr. Faried," Kenneth was ready to brawl. Then they turned on him. He was rail thin, carried an inhaler for his asthma and tied his hair into dreadlocks. He impersonated a Ricky Martin dance in a school play. He was the furthest thing from macho, and some of the older kids at Peshine Avenue School began bullying him verbally.
"It was kind of brutal," Kenneth says, "Like, 'Your mom gay … Oh, don't touch me, you might be gay, too.' Or, 'We shouldn't hang around Kenneth, he might be gay.'
"I got into a couple fights because of it. It was hurtful, but I got through it. It made me tougher, and it made me respect my mom that much more. Because I thought if I was going through that, imagine the things she was going through."
Kenneth Sr. told his son to ignore the haters -- unless they laid a hand on him. Then all bets were off. "I told him, 'No one has a perfect family,'" Kenneth Sr. says. "I said, 'Some of those kids, they probably from single families anyway.'"
Kenneth Sr., who was living 12 miles away in Jersey City, felt it might be best to reconcile with Waudda. Her lupus was worsening, and his son seemed to need a male influence more than ever. Waudda, for a brief spell, considered taking him back. But all that changed when she met the woman with the veil.
On a muggy Saturday, Waudda took her son on a 10-minute drive from Newark to East Orange. As Kenneth sat in the front seat of his mother's white Oldsmobile, he began to squirm. The neighborhood was rotting, and he couldn't imagine there was anyone there worth going to see.
They pulled up in front of a modest home with a narrow porch. A woman was waiting there, wearing a Muslim veil. Waudda lit up at the sight of her. She told Kenneth that this was "Sister Manasin," and he was struck by how reserved she was. Waudda was the boldest person in just about every room she entered, and Sister Manasin seemed as if she would be the meekest. But 11-year-old Kenneth could tell instantly the two women were a fit. "I don't remember my mother saying, 'She's my partner,'" he says. "I just knew."
Sister Manasin urged Kenneth to go inside and meet her son, Davon, who was five years younger. Kenneth had always wanted a little brother, and now he essentially had one. Waudda and Sister Manasin quickly kissed in front of the boys that day, and before long, Waudda had news for Kenneth: Sister Manasin and Davon were moving in.
Waudda had met Sister Manasin at her new job as a bus driver, which she was able to keep even with the lupus. Manasin's American name was Carol Copeland, but after her husband died, she had turned more seriously to Islam. She gave Kenneth a copy of the Quran and assured him she would take charge of Waudda's lupus care. "It was a blessing," Kenneth says.
All of a sudden, there was someone else to sit with him and Waudda in the dark. But now that she was being well taken care of, Waudda wanted her son out of the apartment -- and into the gym. She called the basketball coach at Peshine Avenue School, Charles Murphy, and said, "I've got a lazy boy on the couch. Get him on the court."
Kenneth was, by now, a bony seventh-grader who showed up at his initial practices with three asthma inhalers. He would keep one stuffed in his socks and one in his basketball shorts and would leave a third one with the coach. Getting up and down the court was a chore for him, and when Waudda saw him play his first real game, she fumed over his lack of rebounding.
"He used to be like, I can't get no rebound," Waudda says. "I would be like, 'Yes you can.' I see you're still walking, I don't see nothing broke. Why you can't go get a rebound?'"
She made it a point to never miss a game -- even though her kidneys were failing -- because it was clear she had to remind him to rebound by any means necessary. No son of hers was going to stick around and watch her die the way she had watched her own mother die. Her son was going to go places, preferably as far away from Newark as possible.
When Kenneth later made the team at Newark's Technology High School, Waudda was always seated right behind the scorer's table. The closer the better. His middle name was "Bernard," and she would shout, "Rebound, 'Nard!" loud enough to be heard in the parking lots. She would still wear her men's clothes, but with the way Kenneth was balling, no one would dare tease him anymore or call him gay. But Waudda wasn't the type to blend in, and at one road game, she got into an altercation with a security guard who told her, "Sir, you need to take off your hat before going in the gym."
The taller Kenneth got -- and he was pushing 6-foot-7 -- the more rebounds he engulfed. Division I schools such as South Carolina were intrigued by him, but then got scared off by his borderline grades. His mother's lupus had distracted him from his studies, and South Carolina, among others, wasn't convinced he could qualify. But smaller schools such as Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Morehead State, in Morehead, Ky., were still all-out recruiting him.
Waudda looked at a map. Morehead State was 700 miles away, and that was where she insisted he enroll. He said forget it, that he needed to stay home to take care of her.
It was a full-fledged argument until Sister Manasin stepped in to say he was free to go to school. She told Kenneth that she would take care of Waudda, that they loved each other, that she would never leave her, that, if they could, they would get married.
In Kentucky, Kenneth communicated with his moms via the rebound.
Morehead State was rarely on national TV, so Waudda and Sister Manasin would monitor the games via the Internet. "I figured every rebound added a day to my mother's life," Kenneth says.
He knew Waudda was on dialysis, but he had no idea she was being rushed to the hospital a couple of times a week. She and Sister Manasin swore Davon to secrecy; if Kenneth had known she was declining, he would have left college instantly. The only news they gave him was the good news: The state of New Jersey, in 2007, had legalized gay and lesbian marriage, and Waudda and Sister Manasin were going to tie the knot.
They had planned to be the first gay or lesbian couple to be married in the state, but because of Waudda's health issues, they had to delay their wedding day and ended up fifth. Kenneth couldn't make it to the ceremony at the courthouse because of his basketball schedule, and they didn't want him to see Waudda's deteriorating health anyway.
But eventually that couldn't be avoided. When Morehead State was making a postseason run in Kenneth's sophomore season of 2008-09, he invited them to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament final. Waudda traveled with an IV, and after the game, she told Kenneth a doctor had given her six months to live.
Rebound or die. For damn sure, he intended to rebound.
He took Morehead State to the second round of the NCAA tournament, then prayed Waudda -- after a seven-year wait for a kidney transplant -- would find a donor. Waudda managed to hold on for more than a year, with the aid of Sister Manasin. He kept telling them he was leaving the team to come home, and they kept saying Sister Manasin had it covered. By his junior season, he had news he wanted to give Waudda, although he kept it to himself because he was afraid she wouldn't take it well and might get sicker.
Finally, on May 26, 2010, Waudda received her transplant. Kenneth showed up at the hospital, and delivered his news: He and a woman friend from college had just had a baby one month earlier, a daughter they named Kyra.
Waudda's own mother hadn't lived long enough to meet Kenneth. But Waudda -- whose prognosis had changed for the better -- was about to hold her granddaughter in her arms. "I remember her saying, 'I got my grandbaby, I got my kidney, and I can see my son make it to the NBA,'" Kenneth says.
The NBA was definitely in his future. As a senior, 6-foot-8 Kenneth broke Tim Duncan's NCAA Division I rebounding record -- a dream hatched by Waudda 15 years before on that wretched Newark blacktop. Every rebound has a story, and 1,673 college rebounds later, Kenneth's narrative was clear: Without Waudda, he never would've pushed himself to rebound … without Sister Manasin, he never would've gone to college … without them both, as a lesbian couple, he never would've gotten to the NBA.
He eventually was drafted at No. 22 by the Denver Nuggets in the 2011 draft, right in his hometown of Newark. Waudda didn't re-locate to Denver, because she needed to stay near her doctors in Newark. But Kenneth's father moved to Colorado with Kenneth and encouraged his son to share their family story. So word of Kenneth's journey got out within NBA circles. At the end of his rookie season, in 2012, he sat with NBA executives at the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network's Annual Respect Awards. Unsolicited, he made a donation to GLSEN that night, and he later began working closely with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Alongside his mothers, he attended the Gay and Lesbian parade in New York, and this past winter he became the first NBA player to team up with Athlete's Ally, a group trying to prevent homophobia in sports. His hope always was that if a pro or college athlete wanted to come out, someone would be there to encourage and support him.
And then it actually happened. Then there was Jason Collins.
Faried was in the middle of a playoff series against Golden State in the middle of trying to chase down Steph Curry when Collins went public with his revelation. When he kicked a locker room wall after the Nuggets' Game 4 loss, that was the Waudda in him. When he tripped Curry in Game 5, drawing the ire of Warriors coach Mark Jackson, that was the Waudda in him, too. But when he tweeted "all smiles" to Jason Collins and opened himself up to the scrutiny and threw himself back into the fray, that was the Waudda … and the Sister Manasin in him. That was about his mom … and his other mom.