Jason Collins hasn’t walked into a locker room since The Announcement but when he does — if he does — the hunch here is that the door will be opened almost as wide as plenty of arms.
He has already heard from his “teammates,” meaning a good sampling of NBA players who’ve sought out Collins either directly or through social media. And this swath of reaction, all positive, only confirms the suspicions about the league and its level of acceptance.
“The time has come,” tweeted Steve Nash. “Maximum respect.”
“Don’t suffocate who u r for the ignorance of others,” said Kobe Bryant.
The first openly gay active male athlete of a major American sports team will be welcome to remain active if he gets re-signed as a free agent. The NBA is a brotherhood of sorts. It’s predominately black, more socially aware than most, filled with all sorts of characters. Even some of the owners, Mark Cuban for example, are new-school mavericks who go against traditional thinking.
Twenty or so years ago, the NBA set the standard for being cool and trendy and open and accepting. Suddenly, it was OK for suburban white kids to buy sneakers worn by their favorite black player, or dress like them, or embrace counterculture types like Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson. The NBA is different. It’s not filled with testosterone types like we often see in baseball and football, where homophobia is probably turned up higher.
“I am so proud of my friend, Jason Collins, for showing all of us what leadership looks like,” said Shaquille O’Neal.
It helps that Collins is respected. All the stuff about him being a role player and, after 14 years, on the decline? All true. And all misrepresented. Shaq hated playing against Collins. So does Dwight Howard. Collins doesn’t have a high skill set but knows how to use his body and, as a Stanford grad, his head. He never could guard quicker, faster centers but the ones who cause the most damage are the ones he knows how to play best. And that’s why it’s not hard to imagine Collins being back in the league next season. Someone will give him another chance. He comes cheap, he’s low maintenance and in spots, he can help. There will be a place for him.
Because of that respect, the gut feeling says his teammates will be fine.
“I’m supportive of him,” said Bradley Beal.
You read these tweets and quotes of approval and you think Collins’ road ahead will be smooth. Well, not totally. First of all, any NBA player who doesn’t approve of Collins’ lifestyle won’t be stupid enough to say so publicly. Not only would that be risking a heavy fine, he’d be instantly admonished by those in his locker room, torched by the media and viewed as a bigger outcast as Collins could ever be. Freedom of speech comes with a price that’s not exactly free. Fair or not, that’s the reality.
And, as courageous was Collins was in telling his story — eloquently, by the way — to Sports Illustrated, his case isn’t The Big One. Collins is far beyond his prime and until now, only basketball heads knew who he was. The moment of truth will happen when someone with a higher profile — think household name — comes out. Someone who’s in his prime, has plenty of endorsements and plays in the NFL. He’ll be a bigger story than Collins, if only because, based on perception, he’d have more at risk.
But today, Collins is the trailblazer of sorts, the player willing to take a stand and make a statement and become a leader. Give him that. State the obvious, that he made a bold move that took plenty of guts. It’s not easy being a male professional athlete to make that kind of announcement.
At least it’s the right time, for the right player, in the right league. The NBA has spoken, dozens of times actually, and the voice is overwhelming. The players wouldn’t mind having Collins at all. Provided he can grab a rebound or two.
“I knew I was taking the road less traveled,” Collins tweeted, “but I’m not walking it alone.”