Apr 24, 2014, 11:26 AM EST
Jason Collins – the first openly gay current athlete in North American team sports – inspired a road crowd to applaud a benchwarmer. He inspired a college football player and a college basketball player to come out. And he inspired countless young athletes to be comfortable in their own skin and accepting of others.
That’s why Collins became a member of the Time 100, a list of the world’s most-influential people.
I met Jason Collins when we were freshmen at Stanford. Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed was his height. The second thing I noticed was his kindness off the court — and his fierceness on it. Kindness to his friends, his family and fans. Fierceness in his drive to win. Jason has always been focused on others, on what’s right for those he loves, and on helping those whose jersey is the same as his.
Jason’s kindness and fierceness alike derive from that word too often bandied about and too rarely true: integrity. Jason has always maintained he’s first a basketball player. He is. But he’s also a leader and an inspiration.
Collins was the only basketball player on the list, making him – in Time’s judgment – the most influential person in the NBA. And I’d agree. His news transcended sports in ways the happenings of the league’s top players don’t.
I first met Serena over a decade ago in Miami when I joined the Heat. Since then, I’ve watched her grow and dominate in her sport, overcoming adversity to win title after title. There is no doubt that she has made an incredible impact on the world of tennis, but it’s her determination to never give up that has always resonated with me.
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