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Extra Pass: Jason Collins speaks loudly for progress

Feb 24, 2014, 7:57 AM EDT

Jason Collins

When Michael Jordan played basketball with an unmatched competiveness, he was the same person who (allegedly) cheated while playing an old lady in cards.

When LeBron James makes a spectacularly unselfish pass on one possession and then preens after dunking on the next, he’s the same person who held a me-first nationally televised “Decision” that also raised money for the Boys & Girls Club.

When Jason Collins had more fouls (5) and turnovers (2) than points (0), rebounds (2), assists (0), steals (1) and blocks (0) in his landmark game Sunday, he was the same person who came out last April as the first active openly gay athlete in North America’s four major team sports.

I firmly believe the player you see on the court is the same person who leaves the arena at the end of the night to live the rest of his life. Some compartmentalize their lives more than others, taking one persona between the lines and another outside them. But that divergence is a choice by a singular human being.

Collins, more than anything, made a decision to stop compartmentalizing. He stopped living one portion of his life as a basketball player and one portion as gay. Everyone should expect the decency to live in a unified state of existence if they choose, and Collins shows why.

In any interview he’s done since coming out in Sports Illustrated, Collins sounds happy and comfortable.

He’s become an advocate for gay rights, an outspoken ambassador for the cause.

Which gets back to why Collins had such a strong performance Sunday.

All game, Collins was noticeably vocal on the court with his teammates.

Collins did that before coming out, and perhaps he’s always had this courage within himself to speak out. He just needed time and thought before channeling it into a new realm.

But on the basketball court? Nothing new at all. Communicating well – along with setting strong screens, physically boxing out and committing hard fouls – always made Collins successful without accumulating impressive box-score numbers.

Even at 35 – an age where many, myself included, wondered whether he could still compete at an NBA level – he was still deploying those same skills Sunday.

The Nets-Lakers game finished without incident, a welcome turn of non-events for those who’d anticipated this milestone for years.

At one point early in the fourth quarter, Collins wasn’t allowed into the game. Turned out, he hadn’t reached the scorers’ table quickly enough. At the next stoppage, he re-entered, and he got right back to talking to his teammates.

Collins cannot be silenced.

The Nets will be better for it. The NBA will be better for it. All professional sports will be better for it. The world will be better for it.

And, most importantly, Collins will be better for it.

Players being the same people they are on and off the court is a summation of how they carry themselves in both realms. The concept isn’t numerology, equating a players’ stats to their value as a human beings.

But on Sunday night, Collins was an exception. He finished +8 in 11 minutes, the best per-minute mark in the game.

This is who Collins is – a big positive.

  1. hay1111 - Feb 24, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    the fact is that nobody really cares about this. its the media making more of him and Sam than anyone else. this says more about what vultures the media are by continually pushing a story alive about who a guy is sleeping with when most people just dont care either way. sorry most of us arent pro or anti gay, we just dont care so stop trying to make us care—-that’s your true sign of progess

    • Kurt Helin - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      We provide you the stories you are talking about and want to read. By clicking and commenting on this story you tell me it’s an important issue to you. If you really didn’t care you wouldn’t have taken any time or effort for it. The opposite of caring is apathy, but that’s not what you showed.

  2. tampajoey - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    This dude is a scrub and now because he likes sucking dong he’s a hero? The hype is ridiculous.

    • Kansachusetts - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      He’s a hero not for his basketball exploits but because he sacrificed his own public image in order to help others. Why in the world do we care whether a basketball player or football player is gay or not? Collins just made it easier for all of us, to accept people’s sexuality, which is irrelevant to their work. Now we’re free to forget about it, and gay players are free to live their lives without a big shadow hanging over their heads.

  3. azarkhan - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    “The world will be better for it.” Hubris on a grand scale. Jason needs to take a trip to New Delhi, among other capitals:

    “In December, the country’s [India] highest court overturned the lower court’s ruling, once again making gay sex a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail and putting tens of millions of Indians at risk of prosecution or harassment. Last month, that court – which had said gay people in India were just a “minuscule minority” – upheld its decision against an appeal and said it was up to the government to change the law.”

  4. shuttaman1990 - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    Seriously what the hell PBT?
    There’s more than 3 articles on the front page alone.
    Ok we get it he’s gay.
    I don’t care, HE’S A BUM player in the league, being gay or not won’t change that!

    Seriously this is getting out of control.

    Magic Johnson, kareem coulda came out as gay and I still wouldn’t care about what they does sexually because HE GOT US THEM RINGS.
    Jason what have you done lately for your teams in terms of championships?

    Lakers all day we don’t discriminate based on your sexuality only if u can get us them rings or not baby babeyyyyyy!

    • Kurt Helin - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:00 AM

      Why all the articles? You and your ilk may choose to deny it but this is a historic moment within the context of sports, that an openly gay player was brought on a team for basketball reasons and accepted as such. I’d like to think everyone who commented on these posts saying “this is no big deal” have moved to a point where they see past people’s differences but I think it’s much more that “this isn’t a story” is the new “you should just keep quiet” racism.

      Second, these stories get a lot of hits, which tells me people care a lot about them and want more information/discussion of the topic. By clicking on this and commenting you did the same. If you really didn’t care you would have been apathetic and not commented on the article.

      • shuttaman1990 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        “for basketball reasons”
        I refuse to believe it was for basketball reasons. Like mentioned before a whole lot of other players from the D league with a better upside could have benefited from the experience. Only reason I see this being a basketball reason is if basketball reasons includes the entire organization which makes sense since it gives them more publicity and could somehow someway generate revenue for the basketball organization.

        I don’t see it as a huge story because he’s probably at the end of his career. He’s gay, and he came out, well good for him that he got picked up by another team.

        Unless there’s another player that comes out like a draft prospect that is projected to have a huge impact on his team or the league like Kobe,Lebron,Kevin Durant or one that is already playing in the league at a high level and isn’t near his career it’s all meh. When that happens hopefully all those other teams get scared and don’t try to acquire him so the Lakers can. But that’s very unlikely to happen.

        Lakers all day.

      • Kurt Helin - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:42 PM

        The D-League is not stacked with quality big men, particularly ones who do the little things like set picks and give hard fouls. That’s why they are in the D-League.

  5. bougin89 - Feb 24, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    Let me say I think it’s awesome that Collins is open and playing in the NBA. Good for him and good for the NBA. What’s even better is this is happening on a team owned by a Russian politician.

    • shuttaman1990 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:59 PM

      So… all Russians are supposed to be anti gay? Is that what you’re implying? Because if I’m not wrong the owner advocated for gay rights in his presidential bid in Russia.

      Lakers all day.

  6. adoombray - Feb 24, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    How long have you had this one in the hopper Feldman? ever since Collins came out?

    Here’s your extra pass: the day that people stop freaking out over this, GOOD AND BAD, is the day we achieve real progress. This story gets reported like the civil rights movement never happened. Your audience doesn’t care about your social good guy status, they are here for basketball, and the shock and awe coming from the press is insulting to the LGBT movement.

  7. jeff6381 - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    I could care less if he chooses men or women but people are acting like this guy did something special he didn’t do anything all these articles and stories about him and Michael Sam is getting a little tired. The Nets signed this guy for publicity and an agenda not for basketball reasons thats plain to see.

    • jerze2387 - Feb 24, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      100% agree with thism entire comment.

      • florida727 - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        I’d like to know who the idiot is that thumbs-downed both your comments. How much more obvious can it be? There’s only about 100 ex-NBA players that could get 2 rebounds, while committing just as many turnovers and fouling 5 times in 11 minutes. Seriously, 5 fouls and 2 turnovers in 11 minutes? What a joke.

      • jerze2387 - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:26 PM

        in addition to the 100 ex nba players, just about every big on a D-league team could do the same if not better. With less publicity, and also with more upside (younger, brighter future). And any of them wouldnt have 4 articles and a photo crew at their signing of a 10 day contract. I havent seen any pictures of anybody else signing 10 day contracts, even the guys that have been 10 times as productive as collins.

    • 1historian - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:50 PM

      It’s the media that keeps these 2 stories going

  8. whitey11177 - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    Florida727 my guess the 2 thumbs down came from Kurt Helin and Kurt Helin logged in as a different user.

  9. Professor Fate - Feb 24, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    Some of you basement rats need to get out into the real world a bit more. Believe it or not people nowadays are actually insisting that they not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. And the majority of us agree with that position. No, really, it’s a big deal. Well, for those who actually care about human beings beyond what they can do with a basketball it is.

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