The Story Behind The Jason Collins Story

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Former Boston Celtics center Jason Collins revealed his homosexuality through a Sports Illustrated cover story. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Before a practice on Tuesday, Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green was asked if he'd welcome the return of a particular former teammate who'd been traded to Washington earlier in the season.

“Oh, most definitely,” Green said. “He was an awesome teammate. He played the game hard, set the screens, and got me open. That's all you can ask for.”

Beyond playing the game hard and setting the screens, Green's former teammate remained silent about his sexual orientation — until Monday. That's when Jason Collins became the first active player in one of the major male sports to acknowledge that he is gay. John Amaechi, who came out four years after his NBA career ended in 2003, was among the many delighted by the response to Collins's announcement.

[sidebar title="Littlefield: Public 'Thoroughly Prepared'" width="630" align="right"]Bill Littlefield reflects on the road that lead to Jason Collins's announcement.[/sidebar]“All you have to do is check the Twitter feeds, and you'll see that the vast majority of feedback is really wonderful, effusively warm,” he said. “There are still one or two people out there who never really got past 5th grade. I think Jason is braver than I. I didn't consider it.”

Among those whom Collins alerted before Monday's announcement was the man who coached him when he was with the Celtics, Doc Rivers.

“He called me to tell me,” Rivers said. “You could tell he wanted to tell me, and I told him before he said it, ‘Jason, I could care less about what you're going to tell me.’ I jokingly said, ‘I wish you'd gotten more rebounds,’ 'cause that's all I care about, really, at the end of the day.

Sports Illustrated Executive Editor Jon Wertheim, one of the writers who interviewed Jason Collins for the magazine's exclusive cover story about him, joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Tell me a little bit about the circumstances of the genesis of the Collins story, which has received such extraordinary coverage since Monday.

JW: Well, the story is a contributor of ours, Franz Lidz got a call from a boyhood friend of his who’s now the agent Arn Tellem, who said, “I have a client, an NBA player, who’s thinking about coming out after the season. Might you be interested?” This was about April 1, and they gave us a date of April 24 at Los Angeles. They did not tell us who it was and honestly we didn’t really ask. Franz and I flew out there. Jason Collins was there to greet us and got to talking. That’s pretty much the genesis.

BL: How did Jason Collins seem during the interview? Was he relaxed? Did he seem relieved?

JW: He was relieved. I mean there was a spectrum of emotion. He knew what he wanted to say, what points he wanted to emphasize. It was humor and some very poignant emotional moments. But nerves, or apprehension, or this sort of sense of second guessing, I didn’t get that at all. It was a very relaxed, enjoyable conversation amongst three adults.

BL: Tennis great and activist Martina Navratilova, who came out in 1981, appeared on NBC's Today Show this week, John. She said, “The media has done a 180. Fans have done a 180. And now you’re getting support when you come out, so, you know, the monkey’s off your back. It’s like nobody wants to go back in the closet once they came out.” You called Navratilova to invite her to comment on the circumstances. What stood out during your conversation with her?

JW: What stood out was she was at the prime of her career. I mean God bless Jason Collins, but we’re not talking about LeBron or Kobe here. I mean Martina was the star in tennis when she came out. She did not know what this would mean. She did not know what price this would exact on her playing career. She was 24 years old, [a] Grand Slam champion, and, to me, something that’s really been overlooked in the retelling of her story, is just the level at which she played after this unprecedented move she made.

BL: What is your sense of what the immediate and more long-term effects of Jason Collins’ announcement will be within the sports world?

JW: It’s only natural to expect there to be some backlash, but I think when we see Jason Collins in uniform next season, and I do think it’s “when” and not “if”, this will be a story for a few weeks. And regardless of how many points he scores, he will be interviewed. And 20 percent of the way through the season, we’re going to stop caring.

This segment aired on May 4, 2013.


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