Jason Collins was a member of the New Jersey Nets for more than six seasons. He was the starting center for the Jason Kidd-led teams that won two straight NBA Eastern Conference titles and went to the NBA Finals.
Collins was affectionately known as "Twin" during his days with the Nets, because he has an identical twin brother, Jarron, who also played in the NBA.
Although he wasn't a star with the Nets, "Twin" was always cordial in terms of offering himself to be interviewed, either at practices or after games. He was always willing to answer the tough questions, standing there, facing the media, every single day of the basketball season.
I always looked forward to the smiling Collins, who would handle jokes about being a classmate of Chelsea Clinton at Stanford and battling with the Secret Service, or having a twin brother and fighting over the remote.
Today, Collins became one of the bravest athletes to ever put on a uniform. He agreed to an interview with Frank Lidz of Sports Illustrated and in the story, Collins admitted that he is gay.
Collins said that he battled with the decision to come out of the closet, to become the first active athlete in any of the four major sports in the United States to admit that he was a homosexual.
Collins is now 34. He's played 11 seasons in the NBA. He's been part of six different teams. The news that Collins is gay isn't shocking or disturbing. In fact, Collins coming out while he's currently a free agent (his contract with the Washington Wizards expired once the NBA Playoffs began) is as courageous of a move that any basketball player has ever made.
Collins' decision to come out was the talk of the pre-game chatter at the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets were set to face the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
Everyone agreed that Collins was indeed a great guy and that his decision to come out now was indeed as brave as it comes.
"It is an honor for me to call Jason Collins a friend," said Brook Lopez, who also attended Stanford before coming to the Nets. "I admire his dignity as well as his courage to come out. I'll always have his back."
Joe Johnson, who played with Collins last year in Atlanta, also offered his praise of Collins.
"Jason Collins was one of the best teammates I've ever had," Johnson said. "I respect his tremendous courage to come out. I will always support him."
The reaction from the sports world has all been positive. The Twitter posts have all praised Collins for having the fortitude to come to grips with his sexuality.
Should it matter that Collins is gay? If he was an entertainer or an accountant or even a clergyman, the announcement wouldn't have received a peep of attention.
But because Collins plays in the manly NBA, with an image of rugged men sweating and dunking and soaring, the announcement has newsworthy aspects.
It was the lead story on ESPN's SportsCenter. It was the topic of conversation in both locker rooms prior to Game 5 and asked to both head coaches in the pre-game press conference.
Because Collins is an active member of the masculine and manly NBA, his coming out becomes huge news.
When honestly, it shouldn't. In today's day and age, we should be able to respect anyone's sexuality. We should be able to hear such news and let it roll off our backs.
However, you can be rest assured that Collins will be the victim of scorn and verbal abuse wherever he goes from ignorant fans who just simply don't know better.
"Twin" Collins couldn't even tell his twin brother about his sexuality until a year ago. That's how worried he was about telling the truth about the secret he hid for so long until yesterday.
No one should be ashamed for what they are. Gay, straight, bisexual. It's their lives, their priorites. Professional athletes are people like the rest of us. They don't have to have their lives placed under microscopes and scrutinized just because they play pro sports.
So in that respect, Jason Collins was indeed courageous in putting his private life on display for the rest of the world to see. Maybe it will encourage other gay athletes to follow Collins' lead and come out as well. Martina Navratilova has already declared Collins to be a "gay activist."
She's right. By coming out on the cover of SI, Collins became an instant celebrity for gay rights. Not there's anything wrong with that.
I applaud Collins for doing what he did. I wish others would follow suit so being a gay athlete isn't such a negative stigma. We are who we are. Jason Collins just happens to be gay. And that's something he should be proud of.
Everyone should be as accepting.
Thirty-one years in the sportswriting business and I had a first happen to me Sunday.
As I awaited to speak to the WINNING team in a local baseball tournament, the team's assistant coach told me to get off the field. And it wasn't in nice terms.
I was at the lip of the infield grass. The team sat on the outfield, so I was about 20 yards away from where they were gathered together.
The assistant coach, mind you, said that I was too close to the group, that I could hear what they were saying.
"Get off the field," the assistant coach said.
So I did. I got in my car and drove back home. I'm not about to get scolded like I'm a 5-year-old in kindergarten by an assistant coach no less. There were better ways to handle the situation. The coach should have come over to me and explained what was going on.
The assistant coach ran to catch me at my car, but kept yelling, "Bob, Bob, Bob." At last check, I'm not Bob.
He got to my car and tried to explain that they were a private team and they were addressing a private matter. I don't care of they were planning the next Brink's Job. I just wanted quotes from the head coach and two players and go home. It was already an exhausting day.
But I couldn't have heard what was happening with a hearing aid. I was that far away. It was ridiculous, embarassing and something that will not happen again.
I've had friends in the business that said I should have told the coach off. I'm better than that. I did what any good baseball player does. I went home.
And as for the rest of the high school season, you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be at that place. Dignity has to be a priority, you know.
You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com (nice feature on the new St. Anthony track program), www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com.
You can also Google me and read my coverage of the Nets-Bulls for SportsXChange or look for it on Yahoo! Sports.