NBA training camps open Tuesday, Oct. 1, and with one week to go, Jason Collins still has not been signed by a team.
Normally, few people would care about the job prospects of a 34-year-old backup center at the end of his career, but Collins is obviously much more than that. Since he came out in April, people have been waiting for the time he would make history as step on the court as an openly gay player. Those prospects are in doubt right now, though there is still time for Collins to land somewhere.
Maybe one place will be in Washington, where Collins last played. Wizards' starting center Emeka Okaforis is out indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck. The Wizards are in need of help at center and the 7-foot Collins fits that bill. Sports Illustrated writes:
It's worth mentioning that veteran center Jason Collins, who spent the final months of last season in Washington before coming out as gay in a Sports Illustrated article, is still unsigned. Surely he could be had for a minimum salary deal should the Wizards determine that Okafor's absence is likely to be a lengthy one and find a way to free up a roster spot.
Back in August, SI reported on an informal survey of league executives, and the consensus was that Collins was likely to be signed as teams finalized their rosters. "He's a September player," one front office executive said. "He's a positive locker room influence and still plays big. The league likes him."
Until this all plays out, it is premature to speculate why Collins is out of a job. It could be simply basketball-related as Bruce Jenkins wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle last week:
It's possible, however, that NBA teams are making judgments based strictly on talent and/or financial restrictions. The league's increasingly oppressive luxury-tax constraints have become a major issue, and because the 34-year-old Collins is of limited value - a defense-and-rebounding presence off the very end of the bench - teams have legitimately addressed their concerns with younger, cheaper, more valuable players.
Jenkins, though, notes that there is a shortage of big men in the league and that the longer Collins stays unsigned, the more questions will be asked.
Without question, homophobia will be at the core of some teams' rejection. We're likely not to hear the details, or the individuals responsible, but that's the way of the world in 2013: enlightened, yet with light-years to go. Fear and prejudice remain evil partners in every aspect of American society, leaving Collins as that brave individual who dares become a pioneer.
It's is still premature to say that Collins being unsigned is a reaction to him being openly gay. On the other hand, that perception will grow if he never plays basketball again, and this is something the NBA will have to face, true or not.
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