What will Jason Collins’ announcement do for his NBA career, if anything?
He became the first openly gay male athlete for a major American team sport with Monday’s cover story in Sports Illustrated. It was typical Collins: smart, professional, even-keel, deep and showing a subtle touch of humor. Those who’ve known him — and I covered him when he was with the Nets — say only Collins could be so eloquent in such a situation.
NBA commissioner David Stern said: “Jason has been a widely respected teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Collins’ body of work over 14 years is mostly tied to being a big-bodied, dependable, lunch-pail veteran who has never been a star. He and his twin brother, Jarron, are alike in that respect. Jason has had the better career of the two, though, and always served as a defensive pest to a number of the All-Star centers, namely Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. Collins played them smart and sacrificed his body and often frustrated them. Teams signed Collins for that very reason.
But what makes his situation interesting is his current status in the game. After starting for six seasons in New Jersey during the Jason Kidd era, Collins settled in as a backup the last six years. He’s a now free agent who spent this season playing sparsely in only 38 games for the Celtics and Wizards. And he’ll turn 35 next season.
Had he kept his private life to himself, he’d be a last-minute addition to any team, not a free agent in big demand this summer. But now, will his announcement affect his chances, good or bad, of seeing a 15th season?
General managers can’t speak on the record about Collins, but one scout said: “It’ll have no effect whatsoever. If someone needs him, someone will sign him.”
It’s very possible that an organization will need Collins for his ability and also want him because of his announcement. He’s a solid presence in the locker room, a quiet leader with an intelligent voice and can still defend big centers. And he’s not expensive. For those reasons, it would hardly be a surprise to see Collins in the NBA next season.
As for his acceptance in locker rooms, no one can say for sure, but the NBA as a league is more tolerant and progressive than most. Players tend to be themselves. Remember, this is a league that accepted Dennis Rodman for what he was. The media, based on the overwhelmingly positive reaction to his announcement, will be respectful. The fans? We’ll see.
Collins’ announcement would’ve carried greater significance if he were at the start of his career, instead of the end. Or if he were a megastar. His profile is much lower. There still hasn’t been an All-World male athlete in a popular sport who made this kind of announcement. But Collins just made it easier if that player ever chooses to call a press conference.
Any team looking for a veteran backup center who brings more than just basketball ability could do a lot worse than Jason Collins. Expect to see him this fall.