From The Grio — I grew up watching Michael Jordan doing, quite simply, the most amazing things I’ve ever seen a human being do on a basketball court. I would sit and watch in disbelief, convinced that he was defying all laws of nature and actually flying toward the basket, dismantling defenses and turning coaches and opposing players into fans as all they could do was watch him work. A great deal of my fondest childhood memories include me sitting in front of a television set and cheering on my favorite basketball player.

I also grew up watching Michael Jordan pat his teammates on the butt after a nice play.

It was standard procedure: after an amazing play on either end of the court, a teammate would offer up a congratulatory butt slap to let the other guy know “hey, good job.” It’s a practice found throughout the sports world and is as much a part of the game as Gatorade and Spike Lee. The butt slaps are frequent, and never has anyone questioned a player’s sexuality because of one.

Which is why it’s so confusing that New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul, during a post-game interview after the Hornets victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, felt it necessary to “pause” his teammate Trevor Ariza, after Ariza ran behind Paul and picked him up off the ground in an excited, celebratory embrace.

“Pause” is a phrase used, much like “no homo”, to recognize that a comment or action that could be read as sexual was not intended as such, particularly when the behavior, in the mind of the speaker, could be misconstrued as reflecting some latent homosexual desire.

Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic also used “pause” in a post-game interview while describing his match-ups with opposing center Andrew Bynum, noting that Bynum is “long” (where he means the length of his body, one could mistake it for meaning the length of his member…get it?). But in a sport where men are literally touching, grabbing, bumping, and rubbing up against one another over the course of two hours, it’s difficult to discern where and why these men draw the line and feel the need to offer a “pause” to protect the notion of their heterosexuality.

It’s not as obviously homophobic as Kobe Bryant’s f-word insult that was hurled at a referee, and it generally invokes laughter rather than scorn, but “pause” is no less indicative of a troubling homophobic mindset, particularly among young black men. The underlying fear is that others will perceive them as gay, and therefore less of a man and unworthy of respect. As such, “pause” and “no homo” are used to distance one’s self from all things homosexual, real or perceived.

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