Celtics react to Collins coming out

Celtics react to Collins coming out
April 30, 2013, 1:00 pm
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(USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM -- It's been one day since Jason Collins made history and came out as the first gay professional athlete in any of the four major sports.

We've heard from countless athletes, fans, and other public figures who have come out in support of Collins, and on Tuesday before their final practice before Game 5 in New York City, it was the Celtics' turn.

While the public found out about Collins coming out, some members of the Celtics -- Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce included -- talked to Collins personally about his announcement prior to it happening.

Collins had called Rivers a couple days ago to tell him that he was gay, and was coming out soon publicly. Rivers noted that it took a bit of urging to get Collins to just spit it out.

"I don't know if I was surprised, or really didn't care one way or the other," Rivers said when asked. "When he called me to tell me, and you could tell he wanted to tell me, I told him before he said it, 'Jason, I could care less about what you're about to tell me.' And that's how I feel, I honestly feel that way. I could care less what any of you guys do. It's a non-factor to me, and I know it's a factor to a lot of people, I just have never understood why anyone cares about what someone else does. You know what I mean by that? And I told Jason that. I said it will be a non-issue eventually, but it will not be right now. And it will be news, and maybe it should be or shouldn't be, I don't even know the answer to that."

Collins spent the better part of this season with the C's before being traded to the Washington Wizards at the deadline in a deal for Jordan Crawford. But before he was traded, he certainly made his mark on the team as a being a great veteran and a very hard, dedicated worker who knew what his role was.

"He's an intellect. He's just a great guy, really," Rivers said. "I said it when I traded him. It was hard for me to let him go because he was so good in the locker room that is saying the right stuff and not playing, because usually only the guys that play say the right stuff, and he was one of those."

Rivers is in the "live and let live" camp, where nothing that you do or you believe in your personal life can really bother him. It appears as though his players feel similarly. Players like Jeff Green were more appreciative of the player Collins was when he was here.

“I was happy for him," Jeff Green said. "He’s a good friend of mine. He was a great teammate. Like Doc said, he’s a pro’s pro. He led by example, did what he had to do and he went about his business. I’m truly, truly happy for him, and I’m glad he’s happy.
 
“He showed me what it takes to be a pro. I’m young. This is only my fifth year, and when you have a veteran like him who comes to work every day and does his job, that’s all a coach can ask and that’s something that a young guy looks up to.”

Pierce, who said he was surprised by the news, thinks Collins' announcement could be the start to other athletes -- or just people in general -- coming out and being proud of it.

"I think to each his own," Pierce said. "I think it's probably going to open the door to many more. There's so many professional athletes, there's so many human beings that live a dark life. That are scared to expose it because the exposure of sports and what people may think about it. But I think what he did was a great thing just to kind of open the door for a number of athletes who probably now are going to have the courage to come out."

Collins is set to become a free agent, and at 34 years old and an end-of-the-roster player at this point in his career, some wonder if he will find a team just based on skill alone, whether or not a team will think twice before taking on a gay player. But every Celtics player that was asked said they would love to have Collins back on the team if management sees fit.

But wherever Collins goes, he can expect to be asked about it. Or worse, heckled about it from opposing teams' fans.

"I think every time he goes to a new city, someone is going to want to talk about it," Rivers said. "Or there may be some guy in the crowd that wants to voice his opinion. But they voice their opinions pretty well when we're on the road anyways. It's just white noise. I'm sure when Jackie Robinson went on the road, some of the things he heard . . . they all went away eventually, and this will go away as well."

As long as Collins can contribute to a team on the court, he'll be wanted by his teammates. And that goes for every NBA player.

“We’re all here for the same reason, and that’s to win," Green said. "It doesn’t matter to me. We play basketball, and that’s our job. No matter if you’re gay or if you’re straight, it doesn’t matter to me."