LOS ANGELES (CNN) – It may have taken longer than most expected, but Jason Collins has finally found a home to play basketball in 2014. When he steps on the floor, he will become the first openly gay active player in NBA history.
According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, Collins is expected to agree to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets:
Collins, 35, spent the entire 2013-14 NBA season out of basketball hoping to land a short-term contract. The process was conspicuously quiet even going past the Feb. 20 trade deadline, but almost as soon as the cutoff period started, rumors about Collins’ destination began cropping up.
ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc Stein reported the Nets were considering a Collins signing after failing to land a big man at the deadline. Brooklyn engaged in talks for Lakers forward Jordan Hill, but that deal fell apart when the two sides couldn’t agree on compensation.
Shelburne also chimed in on the matter, mentioning that former Orlando Magic forward Glen Davis was initially seen as another option.
As Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski notes, the Clippers are front-runners to sign Davis after having been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Collins by Youngmisuk and Stein.
The veteran center publicly came out for the first time in a first-person Sports Illustrated column in May. He spoke openly and honestly about the internal trials and tribulations of his announcement, noting the “lonely road” that came prior.
He later appeared on multiple media platforms, including on television and radio, along with being a guest of President Barack Obama at his State of the Union Address earlier this year.
After the initial media frenzy subsided, Collins’ next destination became the underlying elephant in the room. Most everyone agreed that Collins was a trailblazer for fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, whether his announcement sparked a flood of others coming out or not. But there were many who wondered what it would mean should no NBA team choose to pick him up.
Trailblazer or not, Collins landing with the Nets or any NBA team was far from a guarantee. There were many inside the NBA and numerous outsiders who grew nervous as Collins went without a team, some even using it as an indictment of locker room culture. The league and its teams categorically denied such claims.
“In terms of Jason not getting signed, based on everything I’ve been told, it’s a basketball decision,” Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN’s Darren Rovell. “Our teams want to win and Jason waited until the very tail end of his career to make that announcement.”
In his Sports Illustrated piece, Collins perhaps described his style of play more eloquently than any writer could. He noted his own propensity to use up all six fouls allotted by NBA rules and his fierce team-first style that earned him the label of a “pro’s pro.” As Collins acknowledged in the piece, that’s a nice way of saying he is far from a superstar.
Collins’ job is to make the lives of his more talented teammates easier. He acts as an enforcer in the middle, picking up hard fouls and even once leading the entire NBA in those penalties.
But perhaps Collins’ most notable trait, the one that could win him or lose him a job, came in the first sentence of the Sports Illustrated story: “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center.”
Now 35, the wellspring of contracts for players whose primary job is to “be big” tends to run dry. There are younger, more athletic players across the league who can be found on the cheap to fill a similar role. Collins played in only six games after being acquired by the Wizards midway through last season and shot 16.7 percent. For his career, he averaged 3.6 points per game.
Collins’ primary job, even as he has embarked as a secondary career as an inspiration to millions, is to play basketball. There was a point last season where his career looked to be on its last legs, his effectiveness on both ends atrophying to the point where the toughness and “pro’s pro” mentality were not enough.
Perhaps that’s the case. But one of the overarching reasons for Brooklyn signing Collins is his presence in the locker room, the place that many pointed to as the most fear-evoking for a homosexual player.
When Boston traded Collins to Washington at the deadline, many Celtics went out of their way to praise the center’s presence. Kevin Garnett said it was “a pleasure to work with him,” but the most positive touter of Collins’ presence was then-Celtics coach Doc Rivers.