Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Thoughts on Jason Collins

By Adam Maher

By now, every sports fan in the biz has heard that Stanford alumnus/NBA ultra-veteran Jason Collins is gay. Jason's decision to come out of the closet this week has caused quite the kerfuffle, making the announcement in the form of a Sports Illustrated cover story and then virtually every sports media outlet via video and phone interviews. But mainly, Jason has found droves of support from coaches, players, owners, fans, sponsors and media members, including Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, President Barack Obama and many others.

Jason has always been a hard worker, team player, and leader by example throughout his career, so this comes as no surprise to me. Although we as fans, and especially me -- go Nets -- have been cited complaining about the lack of true production value that Collins, the 18th overall pick in the 2001 draft (Rockets), created throughout his career -- if only we had a liiittle more muscle to combat Shaq in the 2002 NBA Finals and Duncan in the 2003 Finals we might not've gone 2-8 -- there aren't many blemishes to judge Collins on either. Basically, it's not like we've got crowd-fighting Ron Artest coming out of the closet, or the opposite side of that spectrum, superman Tim Duncan. No, Jason Collins if not for this story would have bowed out of the NBA just another NBA big man who had a few bright years, but in the end barely thrived in the NBA off fouling out, sacrificing his body, being a good teammate, leader, worker and all-around smart statesman for the game. Not too bad a career, in all honesty very dignified, but to say he's in the top 1,000 NBA players of all time would be a reach.

Which brings us to my point...


If Jason Collins had come out of the closet 10 years ago, when he still had the opportunity to make a real impact on an NBA team, would his talents have flourished into a more prime-time player? Jason said in an interview this week that his decision to come out has been "the most beautiful thing." That says to me that he is at a point in his life when all inhibition and apprehension is let go, and he is free to truly pursue his definition of happiness. Assuming that is being the best basketball player he can be, I say that if Jason Collins comes out 15 years ago, the Nets beat the Lakers in 2002 and the Spurs in 2003.

The flip side of this idea can be seen in a recent HBO Real Sports episode which featured Welsh Rugby player Gareth Thomas's coming out story. Gareth, unlike Jason, had risen to become the cream of the crop in European and world rugby by the time he hit his prime. He holds the record for second most tries in Welsh rugby history (American football equivalent of a touch down) and was truly a fan favorite for many years and as he climbed to the top of the ranks in Welsh caps. But when Gareth came out in 2009, after a decade-long career, his interests tailed away from sports and into the limelight of other industries. Just watch the clip: Ep. 159: Gareth Thomas.

HBO actually did two features on Gareth. The first feature was closer to the news in 2009, when the story was still very raw and Gareth was truly the first big-time sportsman to come out. The second feature was more focused on Gareth's departure from the rugby world, after he came true. With scenes of idiosyncrasies that Gareth's rugby fans surely would never imagined to see. The second segment ended with the point being that Gareth was three years later still waiting for the second major sports figure to come out. I think Gareth was quoted as saying that he just wanted to invite whoever it was, whenever it was, to go stand on top of a mountain somewhere and show the world that they were OK to be gay.

Obviously this whole situation is extremely sensitive. I for one have a few gay friends. Past and present. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter, gay or straight. It's how you play the game. And Jason Collins was pretty much a bottom feeder his entire career. Even when he played in the Finals two years straight he was easily the weak link on that Nets team. Which is why I've just got to ask, if Jason had come out 15 years ago, would he have been a better player? Or would we have never heard of him?


Photo from SI.com's vault.