Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Brooklyn Should Net This Trailblazer

 National Basketball Association journeyman Jason Collins, a free agent, came out with a superbly written and personal essay for Sports Illustrated online.  His story as to how and why he decided to come out (“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay”) is appearing in the May 6 publication.

His coming out should open doors for closeted athletes everywhere and will turn him into an instant hero for gay kids.  There is no way one can overstate the significance of this development.  It is yet another seminal event in the history of gay rights.
The 12-year veteran is well-known and from all indications, he is well-liked around the NBA. Collins bounced around, playing on a half dozen teams, the last being the Washington Wizards.  At no point in his career was his average point total over 6.4 per game.  Since the 2006-2007 season, he never played more than in half the game.   And at age 34 and a marginal producer, it is questionable if another NBA team was willing to take a chance on this free agent.
Until now.
Jason Collins has thrust himself into the glare of the media spotlight—a situation that clearly would not have taken place without his disclosure.  We hear that David Stern, the NBA Commissioner, badly wants a team to sign him, if nothing else, for the betterment of the league’s image and its place in social history.

Should that transpire, the signing team would surely have to cope with the media attention and the resulting distractions.  While most of his teammates will undoubtedly embrace him, Collins would still have to deal with fans, especially in other cities.
Would he be subject to taunting, ridicule, death threats, and other forms of horrific treatment?  Not likely, but nothing would be surprising today given that a guy would unload over a 100 bullets into 6 year-old kids.  Plus there are still a large number of gay-hating people out there. 

Would he receive the broad hostile treatment Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson had to endure when he broke the color barrier in baseball back in 1947 as brilliantly portrayed in the film 42?  Probably not.  Gay rights have advanced so far, so quickly to suspect that outcome.  Racial prejudice was deep-seated then, and it included Robinson’s own teammates and Brooklyn fans.
Which team would be willing to sign Jason Collins given that his basketball skills are not in demand any longer?  It would have to be a team that can handle the distractions, at least in the short term.  It would be best if that team played in a city with a vibrant LGBT community.  I could be wrong, but I suspect the Oklahoma City Thunder would not be the first on the list.

Perhaps the Portland Trail Blazers.  It has a great LGBT community, an open-minded progressive population; heck, it even had a gay mayor.  Moreover, the name “Trail Blazers” would be a perfect moniker for Collins.
But I would hope it would be the Brooklyn Nets.  When the franchise moved from Newark, NJ to Brooklyn in 2012, I thought this was good karma.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Brooklyn; it would be great if Jason Collins breaks the rainbow barrier in the same borough.  Perfect symmetry.

Brooklyn possesses a growing LGBT community and no one can question the vibrancy of New York City’s overall LGBT community.  Unquestionably, any team playing in New York is battle-tested regarding the media and its hyper-scrutiny.  The Nets would endure.

One of the minority owners of the Nets but one who is most visible is rap icon Jay-Z.  Reacting to President Obama’s announced support for same sex marriage last year, Jay-Z said, “What people do in their own homes is their business, and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It's discrimination, plain and simple.”

Here’s another point.  Jason Collins began his career with the Nets.  He should end it with them as well.  Again, perfect symmetry.

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