Everybody seemed to be talking NBA this morning, but it wasn’t the Golden State Warriors’ rousing 115-101 win over the Denver Nuggets last night getting the most attention. Jason Collins, one half of the Collins twins who attended Stanford and have combined to play 1,255 NBA games, made the following announcement in a story published this morning on Sports Illustrated’s website:
I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.
I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.
In the hours since, Collins has received public support from many, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Kobe Bryant. Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote what I thought was a strong piece dismissing the notion that Collins’ announcement deserves to be ignored because he’s a marginal player who may not find a job in the NBA next season. (Collins, who touted his value as a “pro’s pro” who sets screens, takes charges and makes the most of his six fouls, averaged twice as many fouls (2.2) as points in the 2012-13 season.)
The Warriors didn’t practice today, but they made Mark Jackson available to the media. I didn’t attend the session, but on Twitter I saw that Jackson made comments about Collins, remarks that some took as an affront to Collins’ homosexuality and/or his choice to come out now. I transcribed Jackson’s comments, along with the questions that were asked to provide as much context as possible.
Q: “Did you hear about Jason Collins today coming out as the first gay athlete still in the game?”
Jackson: “I will say this. We live in a country allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this
Q: Is there a stigma attached to him now? Will he be able to get on another team?
Jackson: “That’s not for me to answer.”
Q: “Would he be welcome as a Warrior?”
Jackson: “If he had game.”
(Jackson laughs, as do several members of the media.)
“If he can help this basketball team. Today he can’t help this basketball team.”
Q: “You said you knew Jason. How well do you know him and were you surprised to hear the news, knowing him a little bit?”
Jackson: “I called Nets games for three years and he was a member of the Nets team. Also, living in LA, his parents, his mom, I don’t know if she does but works for one of the private schools. We had interactions in terms of attempting to get one of my kids into school and she was instrumental in it. Comes from a great family, and he’s a great guy.”
Q: “Knowing the locker room atmosphere as you do, Would any player in general have trouble gaining acceptance around the league not just this team or not just with Jason, but in general? Would that be difficult?”
Jackson: “It’s something that obviously being around Jason, and I played with John Amaechi in Utah, that there’s a reason why in these situations these players are at the end or done. So obviously that answers itself. Right, wrong or indifferent, it is something that’s new to people.”
Q: “Are you shocked?”
Jackson: “Shocked? That there’s a gay man?”
Q: “That he came out.”
Jackson: “It’s like asking me if I was shocked that he came out and said that he liked women. It is what it is. To each his own. And like I said, I know him as an individual, he’s a good guy, and I’m certainly praying for him. I’m not shocked at anything these days.”
For a little more background on what Jackson said about Collins’ family, Collins referenced his religious views in the SI story:
I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding. On family trips, my parents made a point to expose us to new things, religious and cultural. In Utah, we visited the Mormon Salt Lake Temple. In Atlanta, the house of Martin Luther King Jr. That early exposure to otherness made me the guy who accepts everyone unconditionally.