HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Jason Collins displayed his courage routinely as a big man whose specialty was fighting for space under the rim against the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard. So the journeyman center, who played for both the Celtics and Wizards this season, had nothing to prove to me, you or anyone else when it comes to courageousness.
Jason Collins played for both the Celtics and Wizards last year, his 12th season in the NBA (Brian Babineau/NBAE)
Yet Monday, he showed an entirely different type of bravery when he came out as the first openly gay athlete in a major American sport.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
Those 12 words he wrote in a piece for Sports Illustrated will not only change the course his life but the lives of his friends, family, teammates and coaches (past, current and perhaps future). They will change everyone else involved with the NBA. Now that this barrier has been broken, Collins will forever be linked to this groundbreaking moment and what comes after.
I cannot think of a man better equipped to deal with this new reality. Collins always has been regarded as the ultimate professional, one of the smartest players of his generation and a teammate willing to give it all up for his team. No one spends 12 years getting cracked in the face by the sharp elbows of some of the best big men in NBA history without being willing and able to withstand some pressure.
Collins always has been one of my favorite players to talk to about basketball and beyond. Catch him in the locker room before a game and bring up almost any topic and he could educate you on a thing or two.
So for every person who has an issue with Collins coming out — and there are sure to be plenty of them — there will be just as many who support him and have his back, folks who commend him for his courage and his refusal to fear the foolish reactions of some.
When you have as many friends in high places as Collins does …
“As Adam Silver and I said to Jason, we have known the Collins family since Jason and Jarron joined the NBA in 2001 and they have been exemplary members of the NBA family,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue.”
Collins is a wealthy Stanford graduate with options galore and seemingly no need to share his truth with the judging masses. Yet he does, unflinchingly. Collins explaining himself is refreshingly honest:
Why am I coming out now? Well, I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.
The first relative I came out to was my aunt Teri, a superior court judge in San Francisco. Her reaction surprised me. “I’ve known you were gay for years,” she said. From that moment on I was comfortable in my own skin. In her presence I ignored my censor button for the first time. She gave me support. The relief I felt was a sweet release. Imagine you’re in the oven, baking. Some of us know and accept our sexuality right away and some need more time to cook. I should know — I baked for 33 years.
When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn’t even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I’d been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “Me, too.”
It takes a brilliant mind to articulate thoughts as meticulously and honestly as Collins has here. It takes an understanding of who and what you are, at your core, to do this knowing that there are so many people still willing to give into the prejudice that is sure to come.
It takes true courage to do this without worrying about the repercussions. And courage is something Collins has in surplus, both as a basketball player and as a man.
He wants to march for tolerance and acceptance and understanding. He wants to take a stand.
The players are willing to meet again to get what they say is a “fair” deal. They insist they are willing to negotiate on system issues and made it clear last night that they are willing to jump on the 50-50 split, provided the owners give on some of the system issues that have become sticking points.
But are the owners willing to budge on their stance and perhaps extend tonight’s deadline? Are the owners willing to concede at all on the system issues to save the season? Are they willing to take their blowout victory and show a little mercy now that they know the major battles have been won?
Those are fair questions. Why should one side be expected to move off while the other does not?
The drumbeat the players heard in the wake of that weekend ultimatum was that it was time for them to face reality and prepare to surrender in order to save the season. Shouldn’t the same apply to the owners in the minutes and hours leading up to this afternoon’s deadline?
Zach Lowe of SI.com: The NBA players’ union has called David Stern’s bluff — and it’s done so with a smile. Facing a take-it-or-leave-it deadline amid rumors of reserved conference rooms for negotiations on Wednesday and the possible cancellation of games through Christmas (a rumor the league denied), union officials met here Tuesday and made it clear they wouldn’t accept owners’ latest offer. They also made it clear they’re not too worried about Stern’s 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline, when the commissioner will supposedly pull the current offer and replace it with a harsher one. The union put on a united face Tuesday, saying it barely discussed the possibility of decertifying and hinting that it will almost certainly meet with owners Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to make a deal. When Bill Clinton, who was in town to promote his new book, Back to Work (the irony!), strode through the hotel lobby after the press conference, the players were practically giddy. “You’re with the players’ union now!” vice president Mo Williams shouted. “He’s with us!” The players essentially kept things status quo, which is newsworthy considering the clock ticking on Stern’s ultimatum. They emerged from the room with a clear message: We have volunteered to take 51 percent of the league’s $4 billion in basketball-related income (BRI) instead of the 57 percent we used to get, and we would even go down to 50-50, but we will not bend any more on the structure of the salary cap and luxury tax. “Without improvements in the system,” union president Derek Fisher said, “we don’t see a way of getting a deal done between now and the end of business tomorrow.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Union chief Billy Hunter said Tuesday he’s “cool” with Paul Pierce leading a decertification movement within the National Basketball Players Association and is “not at all opposed” to the Celtics star taking the lead. ”I think Paul is kind of frustrated with the process,” Hunter said after a news conference in which the players said they were rejecting the league’s latest take-it-or-leave-it proposal. “Paul has been at the bargaining table and he doesn’t feel that we’ve been making any kind of progress. And so he thought that maybe that’s necessary. We don’t have a lot of options and that’s the option Paul was pushing – still is pushing.” Asked in a small group of reporters if he’s cool with that, Hunter said, “Of course. Listen, I’m cool with Paul and all these guys. I think it’s very important. I’m happy that Paul and the others are involved in the process. That’s always been the problem with athletes, that a lot of stuff is foisted on them and they have no input. Paul has been actively engaged, he understands, he’s been in five or six of our negotiating sessions, he talks to me, and when they had the (decertification) calls, he called and let me know that they were having the calls. And I said, ‘Hey, I’m not at all opposed to you doing that.’ … I endorse what Paul did.” Hunter later said in an interview on NBA TV that Pierce informed him Tuesday that about 200 players have committed to signing a petition seeking a decertification election if a deal is not consummated before commissioner David Stern’s 5 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline to accept the owners’ latest proposal — which includes the same 50-50 split of revenues the union is now prepared to accept. With owners almost certainly following through on their threat to forward a worse proposal to the players if they didn’t accept the one on the table, the talks could be thrust into chaos even if Hunter is successful in securing another bargaining session Wednesday. Once the decertification petition is filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the players seeking to dissolve the union would have to wait 45-60 days for the agency to hold an election — a period during which negotiations with the NBPA could continue.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: As one ownership source told Yahoo! Sports on Monday night, “If there were a couple of tweaks needed around the edges – not fundamental deal points – I believe there could be a deal if everything else is agreed upon. But there needs to be a meeting with David and Billy for anything to happen.” Fisher and Hunter indicated the union is willing to compromise on the proposed revenue split between the owners and players if the owners drop their demands for some specific system changes. “Without those improvements in the system we don’t see a way to get a deal done between now and the end of business [Wednesday] evening,” Fisher said. The union wants teams that cross the luxury tax threshold to still be allowed to use sign-and-trades and the regular midlevel exception to acquire players. Union officials also want the financial penalty for repeat tax offenders decreased and changes in the owners’ proposed escrow system. “There are things in the system … that we have to have, in order to be able to get this season going again,” Fisher said. The Players Association offered to drop its revenue split to 51 percent on Saturday. Hunter surprised some in Saturday’s mediation session when he suggested the players might be willing to drop to a 50-50 split, even when they had just stated their position as 51, sources in the room told Y! Sports.
Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee: The NBA, like all major sports leagues, is bloodthirsty when protecting its interests. So far in their labor talks, league owners have routed players by seeming unsatisfied with partial victories. They want it all: Big salary rollbacks, shorter contracts, restricted player movement, taxes on big-money teams that spend a lot on acquiring players and other demands too numerous to cite here. Stern said players have to give on all these issues by today – or else. In arena negotiations with cities like Sacramento, the NBA also has wanted it all. In Indianapolis, Memphis, Charlotte and other places, the communities took most of the financial risks while the league reaped most of the financial benefits. If the NBA expects to win such a rout in Sacramento, the entire arena effort is at risk. Very soon, city officials will know whether they can rely on city parking revenue to help generate the kind of money needed to fund an arena costing $400 million or more. AEG, the sports and entertainment titan controlling facilities across the globe, seems poised to invest millions in a Sacramento arena. City staff, officials and local leaders have worked endless hours to explore whether this arena deal is possible. It’s been a massive effort to prove that Sacramento wants to make this happen. But will the NBA and the Kings be willing to put money up for an arena construction deal as Sacramento and AEG seemed poised to do? Or will they string Sacramento out, play it against Anaheim or some other city and then try to blow up the deal while pinning the blame on Sacramento? They play that way when it suits them.
Amy Shipley of The Washington Post: There were no talks between the sides Tuesday as tension over the four-month-old labor dispute remained high. All games through Nov. 30 have been canceled. Jeffrey Kessler, a prominent attorney for the players, accused the owners of treating his clients like “plantation workers,” a comment that drew a furious response from Stern. Kessler said the owners’ current offer to give the players half of basketball-related income was not a “fair deal” and that the soft salary cap functioned like a hard cap. “To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith,” Kessler, who also represented the NFL players in their labor dispute with the NFL, said in a telephone interview Monday night. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.” In a phone call Tuesday, Stern blamed Kessler for the stalled talks and said he deserved to be “called to task” for the remark. “Kessler’s agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal,” Stern said, “even if it means injecting race and thereby insulting his own clients. . . . He has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations and it doesn’t surprise me he would rant and not talk about specifics. Kessler’s conduct is routinely despicable.” The vitriol surely won’t help close the gap. “It certainly is dire,” Stern said about the stalemate.
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: NBA players want one more meeting with commissioner David Stern and the owners. And although they are probably not willing to say “pretty-please,” they are willing to pay for the privilege. Making the surprising declaration that they are prepared to make further financial concessions (goodbye, 51 percent), team representatives from the NBA players union said Tuesday they still want to make a deal, and they still want to make it by tomorrow, as long as it is fair. Union director Billy Hunter said he will likely call Stern on the phone tonight to ask for the meeting, which would be held — if Stern says OK — in the hours leading up to the commissioner’s “close of business Wednesday” deadline for the union to accept the current offer on the table or have it replaced by a new offer under which the players would receive only 47 percent of revenues. Quite clearly, the union is anxious to give this one more shot. What is unclear is whether the owners will be willing to budge on many of the salary cap system issues that are keeping the sides apart. … Owners have offered the players a 50-50 split, and the players came down from their demand for 52.5 percent of revenues to 51 percent during last Saturday’s ill-fated bargaining session. The one percent difference represents $40 million annually in a business that brought in $4.2 billion in revenues last season. “We’re open about potential compromises on financials, but there are certain things in the system we have to have,” Fisher said. “Of course players want to get a deal done, we’ve gotten thousands of those calls, but not by any means necessary.”
Harvey Araton of The New York Times: Those who have worked closely with Stern and who recognize that the players have made significant concessions this time around believe that he would have already cut a deal if past conditions still prevailed. “This is a very different economic situation than he’s had,” said Russ Granik, the former N.B.A. deputy commissioner and now a vice chairman of Galatioto Sports Partners, which advises pro teams and leagues on finances. “When the dynamics end up being more important than the economics, it’s the hardest kind of dispute to resolve.” And Stern winds up looking more like the provocateur than the pragmatist, though Granik added: “If he was concerned about his legacy, he would have walked away, retired a year ago. Everyone knew this was coming.” Those who know Stern said he would not have left the current mess to Adam Silver, who replaced Granik as deputy and could be Stern’s eventual replacement. For his part, Stern said he understood and accepted the heightened rhetoric and news media criticism that are parts of any contentious labor showdown. Regarding the most inflammatory of comments — HBO’s Bryant Gumbel’s likening him to “some kind of modern plantation overseer” — Stern sighed and called it “an occupational hazard.” But he didn’t leave it there because here, finally, was an attack not on the commissioner’s persona, but on his core person. “I have worked harder for inclusiveness and diversity than he could ever understand,” Stern said. “So when I heard what he said I sat back and waited for the e-mails from the people who know me, who have worked with me.”
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers swingmen Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones reached out to many of their teammates to get their thoughts on the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement offer before heading to New York for their meeting Tuesday. The consensus, according to Jones, was that they considered the league’s offer unacceptable. ”Most people were abreast of the situation and knew what was at stake,” Jones said in a telephone interview after the players’ association meeting. “We were all on the same page according to how we felt about the deal.” The players’ union rejected the deal and hopes to meet with NBA officials in an attempt to put an end to the lockout, which has already caused the preseason and first month of the regular season to be canceled. ”We knew the deal wasn’t what we wanted, but I wanted to know how bad the deal was,” Jones said. “We can get past the 50-50 (revenue split), but the (luxury tax and salary cap) system is so bad in the proposal that they left us no choice but to turn it down. ”Hopefully, the system issues can be tweaked and it’ll be something we can work with and get a deal done.”
Ben Maller of The Post Game: If a professional sports league cancels games and nobody is around to care about it, does it really matter? An overwhelming 76 percent of respondents to a new scientific survey said they aren’t missing the National Basketball Association during the work stoppage. The lockout is now 130 days old, with the first full month of games canceled, yet a majority of Americans haven’t spent too much time crying in their beer over the bickering hoop stars. Only 12 percent are upset the games have gone away and another 12 percent couldn’t get off the fence and come up with an opinion. Race is a big dividing line in who is missing the NBA around the country. Only 8 percent of whites miss pro basketball, with 83 percent saying they don’t care about the loss of games. African-Americans feel much differently, with 26 percent saying they do miss NBA games, and 57 percent who don’t care, according to a scientifically conducted telephone survey of 1,179 registered voters nationwide by PollPosition.com … Men and women have pretty similar opinions about not watching LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin. The survey reports 72 percent of men weren’t upset about the postponed start to the NBA season, while 80 percent of women said they don’t miss NBA games. Only 8 percent of the ladies want pro hoops back asap. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are most brokenhearted about the canceled games. In the younger demographic, 29 percent say they’re missing games, 53 percent are not, and 18 percent without a strong a point of view either way. Generation X misses the NBA games the least, with 83 percent responding that they couldn’t care less about missed games, as opposed to 7 percent who do and 10 percent who had no opinion.