Nobody better suited to be first than Collins

Nobody better suited to be first than Collins
April 29, 2013, 3:00 pm
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BOSTON — Jason Collins is gay. Now the whole world knows, and Collins' life -- for the better we hope -- will never be the same.

Having covered him for his time in Boston, the thought of the former Celtic big man being gay never crossed my mind, and I suspect the same can be said for most if not all of his teammates. Why? Because Collins had a job to do every day, so that's what he did -- his job -- every day.

NBA players are past the social hang-ups that much of society still clings to in some fashion. When Collins returns to an NBA locker room, he'll be helped by the fact that he's a veteran, and has shown over the course of his career that being gay is not something that impacts his play or performance on the court.

Plus, the only thing of great substance that players and coaches are looking for in a teammate is what he brings to the floor.

“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins," Doc Rivers said in a statement. "He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite 'team' players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be, it's not up to you, it’s just me being me."

Such a bold announcement does come with some potential risk, with the most likely being negative feedback from any narrow-minded NBA fans.

Had Collins made this admission 5 or 10 years ago, the fall-out would have been a much bigger deal than it is now. Back then, there's a chance plenty in the arena would have gone into total jerk-mode and made some kind of crude, homophobic slur.

But in 2013 where you have a slew of other high-profile gays and lesbians across every socioeconomic spectrum, Collins won't have a major issue with the haters. In fact, as the first athlete among the four major pro sports to be openly gay, Collins' fan base will swell, big time.

And for those of us who have had a chance to be around Collins, nobody is more suited to handle the pressure that comes with being the first openly gay athlete.

Whatever team he played for, regardless of how limited a role he might have had, Collins was always someone we in the media sought out to get his take on the team or some other league-related matter. In an era where players too easily fall into the trap of sounding cliche all the time, Collins seemed to have a refreshing take on matters, all the while his words and thoughts struck a balance between diplomacy and truth-telling.

That has taken him far, and it will continue to allow him to move forward in this next phase of his life that may actually have him taking up shop in Boston next season. When the Washington Wizards played at the TD Garden recently, both Collins and Rivers talked about being open to the idea of him returning next season.

Boston didn't want to trade Collins to Washington, but had to following Leandro Barbosa's season-ending torn ACL injury and the reluctance on Chris Wilcox to allow himself to be included in the trade instead of Collins.

Wilcox held firm and the C's had no choice but to include Collins with Barbosa, because the Wizards made it clear to Boston that they preferred Collins in the deal instead of Wilcox and Fab Melo.

"He's the best," Rivers said of Collins earlier this month prior to the Celtics facing Washington. "He's one of the best guys I've ever had in the locker room, player or coach."

Rivers added, "He's honest. He's honest with the coaching staff and he's honest with players. A player will complain about something and he will tell them the truth. A lot of guys don't want to hear the truth."

But Collins, well, he's different. And as he has proven throughout his 12 NBA seasons, different is not a bad thing.

It is what it is -- different. No more. No less.