When Jason Collins came out publicly on April 29 as the first openly gay active NBA player, it was only part one of the story. The second part -- and most important from a sports standpoint -- would be to see Collins on the court. At the time of his coming out, Collins did not have a team and was waiting for free agency to start.
Now, two weeks into the free agency period, Collins has no choice but to wait. His waiting is not related to his sexual orientation, but rather to where he is in his career. Howard Beck of the New York Times puts it into perspective:
These lower-tier spots on a roster are generally not filled until late July or August, after the superstars, the second-tier stars and the top role players have all found new homes. Collins knows the drill well. Boston did not sign him until July 31 last year. In 2009, it took until Sept. 2 before the Atlanta Hawks gave him a one-year deal.
Collins is a journeyman NBA player and will take up one of the last spots on an NBA roster, which has 13 active players and two inactive. For his career, he has averaged 3.6 points a game. but that has dropped to 1 per game in the past two seasons that saw him playing for three different teams. At 34, Collins' career is nearly at and end.
Yet, his agent, Arm Tellem, is "cautiously optimistic" that Collins will be signed. He has sterling reputation as a teammate and would be a solid veteran in the locker room while providing some backup help at center. I could see him signing with a team like the Los Angeles Clippers, coached by his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and located in Collins' hometown. L.A. would obviously be a gay-friendly destination for Collins. Dallas is also a possibility since Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said he would be "honored" to have the first openly gay NBA player on his team.
Longtime Celtic fan John Swansburg, writing in Slate, urged Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge to sign Collins, for among other reasons:
Your job is to guide the Boston Celtics back into title contention. But as I'm sure you know from your many years in Boston, running a sports team in the Hub comes with more responsibility than a similar position in, say, Phoenix. For better and worse, the city's sports teams play an outsized role in Boston's civic life, and you have an opportunity to do something important here for the city. Boston does not have a terrific reputation when it comes to civil rights; the shadow of the ugly busing crisis still hangs over the city. (Also, remember when the Wellesley cops pulled their guns on Dee Brown?) It would be great for Boston to be associated with a civil rights triumph, and making Collins the first active, out-of-the-closet NBA player would be just such a triumph. Also, a good way of thanking Boston's gay community for, among other things, making the South End such a nice place to visit.
Collins would be the most visible "last guy on the bench" in NBA history, and ensure ticket sales as he makes the rounds of NBA cities. I also bet his jersey would be a big seller for historic reasons, something that never happens with a player at the margins of a roster. The team that signs him will bask in the glow of being a trend-setter and that will help with their "brand."
For all these reasons, and the fact that he still has some basketball in him, I expect him to be signed. It would just feel wrong if he is teamless and then retires. We would have been deprived of our first openly gay athlete from one of the Big 4 sports taking the playing field, and would somewhat mute the effect of Collins' coming out. It would be anti-climatic and we don't like our stories ending with a whimper.
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