The coming-out part is over. Now Jason Collins needs a job.
Collins’ stunning announcement that he was a gay athlete in a major sport won overwhelming support from other players, coaches and executives — even a phone call from the president.
But it also came after the season ended for the 7-foot center and his Washington Wizards.
Collins, a 34-year-old journeyman, becomes a free agent July 1, meaning he’ll first have to sign with an NBA team and wait until next season to see if teammates, coaches, opponents and fans treat him any differently.
“I think the real response will be once he gets a job,” said Jerry Stackhouse of the Brooklyn Nets, who has called Collins a friend for years.
“It’s not like he’s under contract next year and guaranteed to go back to a team. I think once that happens, then public opinion or whatever or players’ opinion will start to loom a little larger. But right now we’ve got the summer to kind of digest what has happened, and I’m pulling for him.”
Perhaps only when he starts seeing offers will he get an idea of what coming out will mean. He only played in 38 games last season, his 12th in the NBA, with averages of 1.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 10.1 minutes for Boston and Washington.
He may not be an All-Star but he has built a career by being a big, smart, physical player who can come off the bench and help defend some of the few remaining dominant centers in the league like the Lakers’ Dwight Howard, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol of Memphis.
And 7-footers in basketball are like left-handed pitchers — hard to find and can hang around forever if they stay in shape.
His basketball skills were praised by President Barack Obama at a White House news conference Tuesday, a day after he telephoned Collins to offer his support.
According to Obama, Collins was “a role model” who was unafraid to come out as gay and to say, “I’m still 7-foot-tall and can bang with Shaq and, you know, deliver a hard foul.”
Collins’ potential for future employment appears to be strong.
“Jason’s the kind of guy who might only play against five of the 30 teams in the league,” TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns executive Steve Kerr said. “But you need him in those five games, those five matchups. He’s definitely worth adding to your roster.”
Rebounding, defending and setting screens will be the least of his concerns. He knows how to do that. Being openly gay in the NBA has never been done.
“Just treat him normal,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “He’s a human being. It’s not like he has two heads or anything. He’s the same dude. You say ‘What’s up?’ like everything is normal.”
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, an advocate for gay rights, said the first openly gay athlete likely won’t have as much to worry about with his teammates as he will with the media that will give him more attention than he’s ever seen.
“The media stuff would be tougher,” Kluwe said. “At the end of the day that would be a larger potential distraction as far as taking away your focus, because in the locker room you get to know guys. It would probably be uncomfortable for about a week or so as guys wrap their heads around it. At the end of the day we’re out there to win games. If someone helps you win games, it doesn’t matter.”
ESPN SAID it regrets the “distraction” caused by one of its reporters who described Jason Collins as a sinner.
Chris Broussard, who covers the NBA for ESPN, said on the air that Collins and others in the NBA who engage in premarital sex or adultery were “walking in open rebellion to God, and to Jesus Christ.”
ESPN’s Josh Krulewitz said the network regrets that a discussion of personal viewpoints became a “distraction.” The network offered its own view of Collins’ news: “ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement,” he said.
During his on-the-air discussion, Broussard described himself as a Christian.
“I don’t agree with homosexuality,” he said. “I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”