Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins has made waves since becoming the first openly gay player in North American major professional sports history during the current NBA season. Controversy in the media has been mostly extinguished over the ensuing weeks, and Collins has settled into a role with the Nets.
Although Collins has received widespread support since coming out, at least one player in the Association is giving Collins a difficult time about his sexual orientation.
As Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reported on Thursday, the veteran big man says he has been heckled by an opposing individual, yet he isn't letting it bother him:
One player, one knucklehead from another team. He's a knucklehead. So I just let it go. Again, that goes back to controlling what you can control. That's how I conduct myself - just being professional...You can't control what other people are going to do.
Whoever is insulting Collins appears to be in the minority, and it's an unfortunate situation that Collins has to continue to deal with. Instead of lashing back and bringing attention to himself, though, he is taking the high road and letting his play—and that of his team—speak for itself.
Collins refuted the notion that his landmark declaration about being gay would serve as a distraction for his team, per Bondy:
Not just for myself, but I think for everyone. This shows that "distraction" is B.S. That it's about the team, it's about the sport. I hope this shows all players that you can still have your life off the court and not have to hide anything. And still have your life on the court or on the field or on the ice, I guess, in hockey. That's a credit to my teammates and the entire Nets organization - from ownership to coaching to teammates to everyone.
As an individual, as a person, as a human being, you have a lot of different hats that you wear. Whether you're an athlete or a human being trying to empower and help others. I'm trying to, again, empower and help others any way that I can.
Brett Pollakoff of Pro Basketball Talk weighed in on Collins' comments and expressed that he was displeased but not surprised by the vitriol:
While Collins has been largely accepted without incident (as he absolutely should be), it honestly would have been more surprising had he not yet experienced a single incident like this.
The NBA is made up of players from widely divergent backgrounds, not to mention age groups that span from the teens to the late 30s. The fact that someone “went there” with Collins on the court is disgusting to be sure, but sadly, it couldn’t have possibly been completely unexpected.
The Nets organization has handled Collins' transition back to basketball amid such unique circumstances with class, care and done well not to magnify the issue in such a massive media market.
When he signed for the rest of the 2013-14 campaign recently, Collins was enthused by the development, per Rod Boone of Newsday:
Jason Collins on being signed for rest of season today: "It's cool. Thank you to the Nets organization, coaches and players."— Rod Boone (@rodboone) March 15, 2014
Perhaps if Collins were playing a bigger role or was a more prolific scorer, the buzz would be greater about his unprecedented situation. In any event, since Collins teamed up with the Nets—the team he began his NBA career with as a teammate of current head coach Jason Kidd—he has found a niche as a mentor and frontcourt player off the bench.
Collins averages just 8.4 minutes per game but has helped the locker room chemistry. Brooklyn is littered with superstar talent between Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett, and Collins is a valuable adviser to younger bigs such as Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee.
The Nets are 10-3 since Collins joined the fold, so it seems fair to say he has had a positive overall impact—even if it's not so much on the court.