Courtney Lee’s Celtics locker was near that of Jason Collins this season until Collins was traded to the Wizards in February. Collins’s landmark announcement Monday that he is gay caught Lee, as it did many NBA players, by surprise.
“Just that it was a surprise for sure, but in today’s world you see more of these types of things occurring,” Lee said. “I respect Jason as a player and professional. What he does with his personal life is [his business].”
Collins was signed as a free agent last summer to a one-year contract and immediately drew raves from coach Doc Rivers for his professionalism and work ethic. What’s more, when the Celtics attempted to acquire Jordan Crawford from the Wizards, they wanted to deal Chris Wilcox and retain Collins. But Wilcox would have had to relinquish his Larry Bird contract rights and blocked the trade.
The Celtics reluctantly parted with Collins, who had nothing but positive things to say about his Boston experience. Rivers released a statement, as well, and talked with Sports Illustrated, which posted Collins’s first-person article on its website Monday and also will have a cover story on his experiences as a gay athlete.
“I am extremely happy and proud of Jason Collins,” Rivers said in a statement. “He’s a pro’s pro. He is the consummate professional and he is one of my favorite ‘team’ players I have ever coached. If you have learned anything from Jackie Robinson, it is that teammates are always the first to accept. It will be society who has to learn tolerance. One of my favorite sayings is, I am who I am, are whom we are, can be what I want to be, it’s not up to you, it’s just me being me.”
The Celtics were not available to the media Monday, so many of Collins’s former teammates will have an opportunity to address the issue Tuesday morning in Waltham.
Collins, 34, was a workmanlike backup center for the Celtics and was friendly and approachable with the media.
The NBA Players Association executive committee released a statement in support of Collins, who was drafted by the Houston Rockets out of Stanford University in 2001, has played with six teams, and reached two NBA Finals with the New Jersey Nets.
“The NBPA supports Jason Collins and his announcement today,” the statement said. “As Jason wrote, pro basketball is a family, and he has and always will be our brother.
“The NBPA is dedicated to fighting for the best interests of and uniting all players regardless of race, creed, color, age, national origin, or sexual orientation. Today is another example that we are intent on continuing that work. We congratulate Jason for having the courage to ‘raise his hand,’ as he wrote in his story, and start the conversation.”