LOS ANGELES Since making the announcement last spring that he is a gay professional basketball player, Jason Collins has been widely praised, received much support and made many new friends. But with training camp for a new season underway, he has been waiting for a call from an NBA team. Any NBA team.
When Collins, 34, a 7-foot center, wrote his coming-out cover story for Sports Illustrated – “my declaration,” he said – he proudly spoke of having been called a pro’s pro for his team-first, lunch-pail style. Never a star, his career has nonetheless spanned 12 years and six teams after four years at Stanford, where he played with his twin, Jarron.
“That’s how I still consider myself,” he said in an interview Wednesday, his first since NBA training camps opened last month without his participation. “Sure, I’ve picked up another title. But I feel that’s always who I’m going to be – that person who sets a good example, who represents the sport and is an asset to my team and a role model for other players.”
The question Collins has to ponder is why he has not been signed as a free agent. Is it because he is at best a marginal player with modest career statistics (3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds a game) nearing the end of his career, one who would cost more than a younger player based on the league’s collectively bargained pay scale? Or is there something more sinister at work related to the new role he would play?
Collins did not dismiss the latter notion or address it.
“You don’t want to speculate – I don’t go there,” he said, while picking at a bowl of greens in a cafe in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, near where he lives. But while conceding he would at this stage of his career be at the lower end of a team’s depth chart, he admitted being perplexed because, he said, “I feel there are players in the league right now that, quite frankly, I’m better than.”
As teams firmed up their rosters in late summer, Collins’ agent, Arn Tellem, received inquiries from at least three teams in the market for a reserve big man who understands positional defense. One of them, the Detroit Pistons, settled on Josh Harrellson, a third-year player who cost the Pistons more than $500,000 less than the nearly $1.4 million Collins would have earned via the minimum salary for a player with his experience.
Several league executives contacted for this article said the number of teams interested in Collins had gotten smaller because of the newly implemented penalties for teams exceeding the luxury tax threshold.
Collins acknowledged that signing younger players would be more prudent financially but asked how experience could be discounted in such a competitive sport.
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