It was inevitable. There has never been a doubt in my mind that one day an NBA player would come out of the closet and let his rainbow flag fly. Jason Collins who most recently played for the Washington Wizards, and The Boston Celtics and is now a free agent, is officially the first active professional athlete to "come out", (wear his sexual orientation on his sleeve).
When I heard this story the first thing I thought was, Jason who? I had never heard of this guy, and I figured that he must have only been in the league a year or 2. But upon further investigation I learned that he is actually an NBA veteran who has been in the league for 12 seasons. His stats are not impressive and his career is lack luster at best. Before he became the first openly gay active athlete in a major American team sport, Jason Collins was known as a bruising center with a very limited offensive game. He has only averaged 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 20 minutes per game in his career.
But he is a tough, big defender who could rebound, an unglamorous role player who does 20 minutes of dirty work before going back to the bench.
So the question is did Collins "come out " because of a need to draw attention to himself in the twilight of his other wise forgettable career?
Collins' one moment of glory came in 2011, when he became the "Dwight Stopper" after he had a bunch of good games against then-Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
In March of 2011, ESPN's John Hollinger wrote of Collins, who played for the Atlanta Hawks at the time.
"Normally, Collins' glaring deficiencies on offense make it too expensive to leave him on the court for his defense, but normally, the Hawks aren't playing the game's most dominant big man. On this night, Collins swung the game to the Hawks' advantage early by drawing two quick fouls on Howard, one on the offensive boards and the other with one of his patented flops in the low post."
Collins' odd success against Dwight continued a few months later, when the Hawks upset the Magic 4-2 in the playoffs. He played 17 minutes per game in that series (he averaged just 12 minutes during the regular season).
Collins' status as Dwight's kryptonite will probably take a backseat now though. He even referenced his reputation as a bruising center in a recent article.
"I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I've always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn't make you soft? Who knows? That's something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don't show up in box scores, and frankly I don't care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player."
As to why he opted to address his sexuality now, Collins says that he was partly inspired by the Boston Marathon bombings, adding that "it takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew," he writes. "And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back."
In my opinion he absolutely fits the gay stereotype. An attention seeking contrarian, who longs for acceptance. Of course he is going to say that he does not care about stats, because his stats are horrible. To me the equation reads like this. A career just below mediocrity, plus free agency, plus the fact that the "gay mafia" or the LGB...whatchamacallit community will try to crush those who give the slightest inclination that they disagree with Jason Collins decision to "come out", or snub him for doing so, plus an from NBA commissioner David Stern, equals a brand new contract.
Stern applauded Collins in a statement, noting, "Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue." Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld felt similarly, calling Collins "a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career".
The team that signs Collins will be seen as a progressive, trail blazing franchise on the cutting edge of equality. I believe that his decision to "out" himself was a bargaining chip to gain attention, support, and a shiny new contract, and not a move to unburden himself. These are my thoughts outside of the box.