As this is written, Jason Collins, former Stanford star basketball player, long-time NBA player, and first openly gay athlete in the NBA (John Amaechi came out publicly after retiring from the NBA), is not on an NBA roster. I’ve followed his career for a while and have a few thoughts about his situation.
First, let’s start with a basic question: at age 34 (Jason will turn 35 next month), and with limited offensive skills, is Collins worthy of a roster spot?
I understand that there could be some cynicism resulting from the fact that all 30 NBA teams decided that Collins was not worth at least an invitation to camp. How could that not be a result of his announced sexual orientation? That’s a fair question, especially given that two other big men, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden, are on NBA rosters this season despite having had significant injuries that have kept them out of action for extended periods. On the other hand, Bynum and Oden are much younger than Collins (Bynum is 26, Oden 25).
Perhaps a logical basketball-only reason for not even inviting Collins to camp is this: his strength is defending the post, and the current NBA is ruled by freakishly athletic wing players. If you are familiar with NBA teams, try this: how many big men are real threats in the post in today’s NBA? Blame the one-and-done rule if you want, but whatever the cause, we’re just not seeing American big men with traditional big-man skills anymore. I heard an NBA analyst make the point that one Spanish family (the Gasols, with Pau of the Lakers and Marc of the Grizzlies) has produced more big men who can play in the post in today’s NBA than all American families combined (his list began and ended with Dwight Howard of the Rockets). That might be a little harsh, but the fact remains that what Jason Collins does best is simply not in high demand in today’s NBA, at least not for someone his age with limited offensive skills and declining athleticism.
I think the longer-term problem we should anticipate if Collins never returns to the NBA is the chilling effect this could have on other young men and women who will struggle with when, how and whether to publicly announce their sexual orientation. It certainly would be understandable for other gay athletes to wonder whether a straight or still-closeted Jason Collins would have been on an NBA roster for opening day of the 2013-14 season.
Jason Collins has long been considered by NBA folks to be a positive influence in the locker room, a true professional, a great teammate. For those reasons, I think there is a good chance we will see Collins on an NBA team later in the season, once the inevitable injuries have taken their toll, and once teams have a better sense of who is likely to be in the playoffs. We have seen roster decisions made late in the season based on projected playoff matchups before, and no doubt we will see that again. Jason, stay in shape!
I don’t think any team had an obligation to bring Jason Collins to camp if they felt that he could not help them. If Collins were straight, I doubt anyone would be asking why he isn’t on an NBA roster. There are a lot of men his age or younger, with high mileage on their bodies, who simply can’t compete with the incredible athleticism in the NBA today.
But because Jason Collins is gay, the question has been asked, and asked a lot: Is his publicly-stated sexual orientation the reason he is not in the NBA today?
Of course, those of us on the outside can’t possibly know the answer to that question. I’m pulling for him to make an NBA team because I like high-character guys who work hard and don’t pout when they don’t get the ball. If he doesn’t make a team this year, I’ll be disappointed, but I’m not prepared to condemn the NBA or assume that homophobia runs rampant in the NBA.
Jason Collins came out when he was ready. If 30 NBA teams feel he’s not the player he was a few years ago and is not deserving of an invitation to camp or a roster spot, so be it. I hope he makes a team this year, but if he doesn’t, I don’t think that somehow cheapens the importance of his announcement. That took guts and the kind of character I’d like to see in a teammate.
Thoughts? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.