April 30, 2013

Celtics players celebrate Collins' coming out

Jason Collins became the first active athlete in major U.S. professional sports to come out as gay on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

WALTHAM, Mass. — Celtics coach Doc Rivers wishes Jason Collins had gotten more rebounds. Jeff Green liked the screens his former teammate set. Jason Terry would love to have Collins' toughness in the playoffs.

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Jason Collins

The Associated Press

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Boston Celtics center Jason Collins battles Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) for a rebound during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Los Angeles. NBA veteran center Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

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And they're all happy for Collins after he came out as gay.

None of the Celtics expressed concern Tuesday about having been on the same team as a gay player. They did care about what he did to help Boston win games and about how he might help other gay athletes.

"There are so many professional athletes, there are so many human beings that live a dark life, that are scared to expose it because of the exposure of sports and what people may think about them," Paul Pierce said. "I think what he did was a great thing just to open the door for a number of athletes who probably now are going to have the courage to come out."

Rivers said Collins told him he was gay "a couple of days" before his announcement Monday on Sports Illustrated's website.

"I don't know if (I was) surprised, or really didn't care one way or the other," Rivers said. "It's a nonfactor to me. And I know it is a factor to a lot of people. I just have never understood why anyone cares about what someone else does.

"He told me he was coming out and I told him, 'great, you know, good. Let's move forward.' And I jokingly said, 'I wish you could have gotten me more rebounds,' because that's all I care about."

The 7-foot Collins played 32 games for the Celtics in his only season with them. He averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game. They traded him on Feb. 21 to Washington, his sixth team in 12 seasons. He played just six games with the Wizards with four points and eight rebounds.

Now he's a free agent. Some Celtics said they'd like to have him back next season.

"Most definitely," Green said before practice for Wednesday night's fifth game against the New York Knicks. "He was an awesome teammate. He played the game hard. He set good screens to get me open. That's all you can ask for."

The Knicks lead the first-round series 3-1 and can wrap it up at home. The Celtics avoided a sweep with a 97-90 overtime win on Sunday in which Terry scored their last nine points. But they're still at a big disadvantage.

Would Terry like Collins back?

"Definitely needed his toughness," he said. "Would love to have it in this series. He's one of the toughest guys in the NBA."

Several Celtics praised Collins as intelligent, very professional and a good teammate who was a positive influence in the locker room despite his minor role. They were happy for him that he made his announcement.

"He's had a huge, tremendous weight lifted off of him and that's all you can ask for any man or woman is to be at peace with themselves," Terry said. "Then you can go find that ultimate happiness.

"I know how dedicated he is to his craft and he was a great teammate, regardless of his sexual preference. It didn't matter to me."

Kevin Garnett was "just happy for him obviously being able to be himself. ... Personal preference is just that. We're here to support everything he's doing."

Green called Collins "a good friend" and said "I'm truly, truly happy for him."

And, he said, he never considered the possibility of having a gay teammate.

"It never crossed my mind, but I'm not against it," he said. "We all are here for the same reason and that's to win, no matter if you're gay, if you're straight. It doesn't matter to me."

But Rivers knows not everyone will have a favorable reaction to Collins' announcement if he plays next season.

"There may be some guy in the crowd that may want to voice his opinion," he said, "but they voice their opinions pretty well when we're on the road anyway. It's just white noise at the end of the day, and I'm sure when Jackie Robinson went on the road, some of the things he heard, and they all went away, eventually, and this will go away as well."

Rivers said Collins' announcement will "spur debate and opinions" even if it doesn't spur other gay athletes to come out.

"Everybody should have a right to an opinion," he said. "We have to have tolerance with everyone."

 

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