Monday, February 24, 2014

Huge step: Jason Collins, NBA's first openly gay player, signed by Brooklyn Nets

It's a huge step in the world of sports, the Brooklyn Nets' signing of Jason Collins, a veteran NBA journeyman, who came out last year and left many wondering whether his openly gay status would deter team's from signing him, especially since he was hardly a star.

But the Brooklyn Nets, with a coach and teammates who knew Collins over his seven seasons at the New Jersey Nets and other teams, needed another big body, one who could play defense, and Collins was available, having kept himself in shape, waiting to see how rosters shook out. And, without scoring a point, he helped the Nets to a win.

The Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro wrote:
The first sentence of [GM] Billy King’s announcement at 3:15 PM Sunday read, “The decision to sign Jason was basketball decision,” and hopefully that’s the last time a general manager will ever have to state something so silly – you mean it wasn’t for his yodeling skill? Sure, we see why Billy mentioned it: Cynics call this is a ratings grab, but that’s equally silly. Collins is a 12th man on a 10-day contract. Nobody was asking whether it was a publicity stunt when the Clippers and Pacers brought in Hedo Turkoglu and Rasual Butler.
If he can play, he’ll play. And then another gay player will come along, and, frankly, probably play much better. By then, hopefully, we’ll have crossed over from the condescending virtue of tolerance to authentic respect, as the great cleric Forrest Church put it.
The Daily News's Mike Lupica quoted an ex-NBA star and now broadcaster: 
The Times put a teaser at bottom 
“This is a good day in terms of breaking another barrier, but we gotta get to the point where people stop worrying about this,” Charles Barkley told me on Sunday, “where we don’t worry about who’s gay in the locker room and who’s not and who might be. I just hope Brooklyn did this for the right reasons, and not to stay relevant in the New York papers.”
If you have watched the way the Nets have done business since Mikhail Prokhorov became the owner of the team, it is a fair thing to have some healthy skepticism about all that.
So far, the Nets have played it right, so until and unless we see some aggressive marketing of Collins--who's a spot player, remember--they get the benefit of the doubt.

And while the Jackie Robinson references are a stretch--though a convenient geographical echo--it took a good measure of institutional rigor and class to sign Collins. It doesn't hurt that Brooklyn and New York City are a lot more tolerant than, say, Oklahoma City.

The business decision

The Brooklyn Game explained:
The decision to sign Jason was a basketball decision," Nets general manager Billy King said in a statement. "We needed to increase our depth inside, and with his experience and size, we felt he was the right choice for a 10-day contract."

The ten-day contract keeps Collins until March 5th. The Nets can sign Collins to one additional ten-day contract then, and will have to decide then if they want to keep him past March 15th for the rest of the season.

There's a strong push in the organization to hold on to Collins for the rest of the season. They've made a practice of not playing center Kevin Garnett in back-to-back games, increasing the need for depth at the center position. Because of this, the Nets want added insurance for the second half of back-to-backs, a team source confirmed. Out of seven back-to-back sets in the rest of the season, only one comes in the next ten days, and only one more in the following ten. 
Collins joins the team as their 14th man, and the team stressed that his sexuality and a chance at making history had nothing to do with their decision.

"(It was) a basketball decision only... I think we all understand the historic implications but that was an afterthought," a team source told The Brooklyn Game.

Collins's ten-day contract will cost the Nets $50,000 in salary, and roughly $250,000 in luxury taxes.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver released this statement on the signing: "Jason told us that his goal was to earn another contract with an NBA team. Today, I want to commend him on achieving his goal. I know everyone in the NBA family is excited for him and proud that our league fosters an inclusive and respectful environment."
The Daily News's Stefan Bondy suggested:
Besides, it’s not entirely true that this is all basketball-related. Sure, the Nets need a big man to play spot minutes, rebound and defend the paint. Sure, Collins is a veteran with a strong basketball IQ and a willingness to fight to protect the rim.
But this is also about one friend, Nets coach Jason Kidd, helping out another, doing what friends do and keeping a faith that was forged when they were teammates in New Jersey. To be clear, Kidd wouldn’t have signed off on this move if he felt it didn’t help the team. But like anybody else, he’s not immune to injecting personal feelings.
The bigger picture

Wrote Cyd Zeigler in the gay sports web site OutSports:
With the signing, the NBA is the first of the Big Four sports leagues in the United States to have an active openly gay player. To be sure, they already had that distinction last spring when Collins first came out publicly. But then he was at the end of a contract and no playing time was in sight.

This is completely different. This is a team signing a player knowing he's gay. It's a team owned by a hip-hop mogul, a former NBA star and a Russian.

Even more importantly, the Nets are a team fighting for a playoff spot. Currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, they are only four games out of the dreaded ninth spot. This isn't a team looking for a publicity stunt to sell tickets: This is a team looking for home-court advantage in the first round and a shot at the NBA Finals.

This is huge.

Just last year, people said this was impossible.
Bondy pointed to the need for another cultural change:
Gay slurs and insults have infiltrated nearly every locker room at some point, nearly every court and field. Take Sunday’s situation, for instance: Collins was expected to make his debut against the Lakers at the Staples Center, the same place Kobe Bryant once called a referee, “a f---ing f-----.” Bryant doesn’t have to hate gays to use that word. Neither did Amar’e Stoudemire when he tweeted it to a taunting fan.
It’s part of a culture in sports, a macho vernacular. In a locker room, the use of a homophobic slur is equal to insulting his manhood. We hear it all the time uttered casually in that context, even after the tremendous strides made over the last 10 years in acceptance and awareness. It’s a stereotype Collins will hopefully help to disprove over 10 days as he tries to earn another contract. And “earn” is the operative word, because there are many who feel he doesn’t deserve this opportunity and this is just a publicity stunt from the attention-starved team from Brooklyn.
On tape

Collins was professional and classy in his pre-game press conference.



On Twitter

The Twitterverse was significantly positive, with tweets from New York's mayor, Brooklyn's Borough President, and later, the Public Advocate (a longtime Atlantic Yards opponent):







A longtime Atlantic Yards opponent offered kudos:
Also note, via The Brooklyn Game, One Stop Shopping for All Your Homophobic Jason Collins Tweets.

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