“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins, 2013 free agent
Jason Collins is waiting for the phone to ring. For an NBA General Manager to step forward.
Hire Collins, and you’ll make history.
The 34-year old, by all accounts, knows that his skills are different than they were at 24. And that he’s not as versatile as Dwight Howard, who could still be a point guard. Maybe not even a Bill Cartwright. Yes, as the Times, notes, on skills alone, it could be weeks or months before he knows what his future holds. He’s established himself over the years as an aggressive workhorse, a modestly talented, been-around-the-block-a-few-times-12-year NBA veteran center, who wasn’t taken until the deadline by the Boston Celtics last year, and finished the season with the Wizards.
When Collins came out last February, the Times noted that NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Jason Kidd offered praise on Twitter. His former teams issued statements of support.
As the New York Times noted in a Friday, May 10 editorial:
“The overwhelmingly supportive response to Jason Collins, who came out
as the first openly gay male athlete playing in a major American team sport, is an encouraging measure of the nation’s civil rights progress.
But his barrier-breaking announcement a dozen years into his NBA career also carries a reminder of a reality millions of gay people live with every day: being open about their sexual orientation could put their job and career at risk.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern, as expected, welcomed that moment. Over his 29-year career as NBA Commissioner, the New Jersey-born Stern has overseen the creation and development of the WNBA professional women’s basketball league, and has been credited for developing and broadening the NBA’s audience, by setting up training camps, playing exhibition games around the world, and recruiting more international players.
Stern also distinguished himself by finding a place in the NBA for nonlinear players. From embracing diminutive, fast players like Muggsy Bogues (5’3) and Spud Webb (5’6), to finding 7’6 giants like Shawn Bradley, Dikembe Matumbo and the late Manute Bol, to founding the WNBA.
No sports administrator has so changed the face of what is possible in sports since National League President Ford Frick, signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract 65 years ago.
Like Frick, Stern appears to have had a sense of the rightness of the universe, a sense of fairness, and most importantly, is prepared to support a sea change in attitude.
Could he do what Frick did during his tenure as National League president, when several members of the St. Louis Cardinals planned to protest Jackie Robinson‘s breaking of baseball’s color barrier? Frick threatened any players involved with suspension.
This is a different day and age, I think, in the NBA. Unlike Ford Frick, what Stern may not want to do is to suggest that to the owners of NBA teams that they be brave enough to hire Collins, now that he has come out.
That said, Collins needs a team that can benefit from his leadership, his experience in the NBA, and his abilities to contribute on the court where needed.
Which leads me to Jason Kidd. After leading the (New Jersey) Nets to their only NBA Finals appearance, then winning the Larry O’Brien trophy for Marc Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks and being part of USA Basketball’s “Dream Team” in the Olympics, Kidd retired on June 3 of this year, after 19 seasons in the NBA.
On June 12, Kidd was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, replacing interim coach P. J. Carlesimo, and just the third coach since the ABA-NBA merger to make the transition from player to head coach.
Kidd inherited a team with a lot of talent. As CBS Sports noted, the Nets have an elite point guard in Deron Williams, and with Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez, there’s a lot of offensive ability.
That said, Kidd told CBS Sports he wants to play as a five-man unit instead of in one-on-one isolations.
But Kidd’s had no coaching experience. Collins would be helpful there, giving him the knowledge he has accumulated over the past 12 years about what works and what doesn’t in managing NBA professionals. He’s played in Boston, where Paul Pierce and Kevin (KG) Garnett won a championship.
In turn, Collins could benefit greatly from time in the Big Apple, using his skills where necessary, while giving the Nets, in their spanking-new Brooklyn home, to build their fan base and draw new revenue streams. The sizeable LGBT community of Brooklyn and the greater New York metropolitan area could claim two teams on their side, including the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
The Nets don’t want to be known as the ‘poor man’s Knicks’ forever, do they?
I would suggest they follow the lead of the WNBA, which adopted the policy of marketing to the LGBT community years ago. After all, Brittany Griner, the talented, and the #1 draft pick of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, came out as a lesbian the day after she signed with the Mercury, and stated she hoped to be “a role model for the community.”
Collins would make an excellent representative…a face of the gay community, who could utilize his still-viable basketball skills to help the team, while making history off the court.
Isn’t it high time that this happened now, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that New York, the #1 market in the United States, create a place where the revenues need to flow and a new audience can be developed?
Collins appears to have a good attitude about whether he is signed or not this off-season. As he told the NY Times:
“It won’t weigh on me,” Collins said. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve played 12 years in this league. Not a lot of professional athletes, not a lot of basketball players, can say that they’ve played for over a decade. But at the same point, I still feel like, just like a lot of other professional athletes, that I still can contribute to a team and I still have something left to go out and prove.”