The coming-out part is over.
Now Jason Collins needs a job.
Collins’ stunning announcement that he was a gay athlete in a major sport won overwhelming support from other players, coaches and executives — even a phone call from the president.
But it also came after the season ended for the 7-foot center and his Washington Wizards.
The 34-year-old journeyman becomes a free agent on July 1 — meaning that he will first have to sign with an NBA team and wait until next season to see if teammates, coaches, opponents and fans will treat him any differently.
“I think the real response will be once he gets a job,” said Brooklyn Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who has called Collins a friend for years.
“It’s not like he’s under contract next year and guaranteed to go back to a team. I think once that happens, then public opinion or whatever or players’ opinion will start to loom a little larger then. But right now we’ve got the summer to kind of digest what has happened, and I’m pulling for him.”
Perhaps only when he starts seeing offers from teams will he get an idea of what coming out will mean for his career. He only played in 38 games last season — his 12th year in the NBA — with averages of 1.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 10.1 minutes per game for Boston and Washington.
He may not be an All-Star, but he has built a career by being a big, smart, physical player who can come off the bench and help defend some of the few remaining dominant centers the league like the Lakers’ Dwight Howard, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol of Memphis.
And 7-footers in basketball are like left-handed pitchers in baseball — hard to find and can hang around forever if they stay in shape.
His basketball skills were praised by President Barack Obama at a White House news conference Tuesday, a day after he telephoned Collins to offer his support.
According to Obama, Collins was “a role model” who was unafraid to come out as gay and to say, “I’m still 7-foot-tall and can bang with Shaq and, you know, deliver a hard foul.”
Collins’ potential for future employment appears to be strong.
“Jason’s the kind of guy who might only play against five of the 30 teams in the league,” TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns executive Steve Kerr said. “But you need him in those five games, those five matchups. He’s definitely worth adding to your roster.”
Rebounding, defending, setting screens, those will likely be the least of his concerns. He knows how to do that. But being openly gay in the NBA — that’s never been done before.
“Just treat him normal,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “He’s a human being. It’s not like he has two heads or anything. He’s the same dude. You say ‘What’s up?’ like everything is normal.”
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, a vocal advocate for gay rights, has said the first openly gay athlete likely won’t have as much to worry about with his teammates in his own locker room as he will with the media that will no doubt give him more attention than he’s ever seen.
“The media stuff would be tougher,” Kluwe said when speaking about the prospects of an openly gay football player. “At the end of the day, that would be a larger potential distraction as far as taking away your focus from football, because in the locker room you get to know guys. It would probably be uncomfortable for about a week or so as guys wrap their heads around it. At the end of the day we’re out there to play football and win games. If someone helps you win games, it doesn’t matter.”