On Monday, when 99 percent of the world was introduced to Jason Collins, his twin brother Jarron watched highlights of Jason’s basketball exploits and laughed some.
He spent the day fielding calls from friends, former teammates and coaches, and many others after Jason became the first active male athlete in the four major professional sports to announce he is gay.
Jarron, who learned last summer about his brother’s sexual orientation, received a call from a former college teammate who said, “Damn, I didn’t know Jason had so many highlights.”
Jarron laughed, realizing that his brother’s announcement was not only career-defining but also life-defining. Now a part-time commentator and scout with the Los Angeles Clippers, Jarron couldn’t be more supportive of his brother.
“It’s been a very interesting last few days,” he said. “I definitely understand the mind-set of his decision to come forward, being that he’s the first gay [male] athlete to go public with his intentions. I look forward to the day when this isn’t news when somebody comes out. Having said that, it’s kind of cool that my brother got phone calls from President Clinton and President Obama, Oprah [Winfrey], definitely weird to see CNN breaking news on my brother’s sexuality, but again, it is a very bold step my brother took and I admire him and support him.”
The Collins twins were prep wonders at Harvard-Westlake School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where this author began covering them as 6-foot-10-inch wunderkinds dominating the Mission League. They were polite, sincere, and appeared very much similar. It was then, however, according to his Sports Illustrated account, that Jason said he began to feel different than Jarron.
They played together at Stanford, with both drafted in 2001: Jason, who left school early, went 18th overall and Jarron 52d. They were synonymous with each other, until now.
“My brother, it took him a little bit longer to know himself and to know how he feels comfortable with who he is and accepting of who he is, but we each know who we are as individuals,” Jarron said. “It’s not an issue. It was always the Collins twins, ‘are you Jason or Jarron?’ But now it’s Jason Collins, the first pro sport athlete who is [publicly] gay, and Jarron Collins. We’re separate in that sense.”
Jarron wanted to stress that he and his brother remain one entity.
“I don’t want and Jason doesn’t want the fact that he’s gay to define who he is,” Jarron said. “That’s just part of who he is. My brother is someone who, his teammates can speak for him, coaches, general managers, anybody . . . he’s that hard-working, character guy that you don’t have to worry about in the locker room. He’s a guy that is going to put his work in, be supportive, be a great teammate, and who could not play for three weeks and some foul trouble happens and you don’t have to worry that he’s going to be late on a defensive rotation. He’s dependable in what he does.”
They played in the NBA together for 10 years. When Jason dropped 40 pounds before joining the Celtics last summer, he resembled Jarron even more.
“It’s definitely something that I’m glad he opened up to me about; I know it was something that was really difficult,” said Jarron. “We are still close and we always keep in constant contact; when I was in Utah and he was in Jersey, wherever he happened to be in the country we would always contact each other twice a day.
“I know it was good for him to hear the feedback from people [who have come out] and they say the importance to their siblings in particular, standing up and giving them that strength.”
Jason, who was traded from the Celtics to the Wizards in February, is a free agent. Perhaps being 34 factors into whether he continues his career, but many league executives don’t believe his sexual orientation will play a part in his decision.
“His goal is his passion and his passion is basketball,” Jarron said. “He wants to play next year and that’s what he’s training for. He may do an interview here and there but this morning at 9:30 he was in the gym working out. His whole mind-set is continuing his career. Being gay doesn’t define him. It comes back to basketball. I think with his talent he could get another chance in the NBA, and I hope he does.”
A lot is left to Kings drama
The NBA saved Sacramento, or shorted Seattle again, depending on how you view the relocation committee’s recommendation that the Kings stay put.
The ruling cemented what was quite a fourth-quarter rally by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. Just three months ago, the Kings were a cinch to be sold to real estate mogul Chris Hansen and moved to Seattle, which had an arena plan in place. Johnson formed a capable group to purchase the Kings from the Maloof brothers, who wanted to sell the team to Hansen, and gave the relocation committee no choice but to give Sacramento another opportunity.
The fan support in Sacramento has always been among the league’s best but the Maloofs experienced financial problems. That led to their attempt to relocate the Kings to Anaheim, a move swiftly blocked by commissioner David Stern. The Maloofs then engaged Hansen.
However, the relocation committee’s recommendation doesn’t rule out the Kings being sold to Hansen.
So if Hansen does purchase the Kings, does he attempt to block any new arena deal in Sacramento so he can relocate the club?
“While we are disappointed with the relocation committee’s recommendation, we just wanted to let you all know that we remain fully committed to seeing this transaction through,” Hansen said on his website (sonicsarena.com). “As you are all well aware, we have a binding transaction to purchase the Kings for what would be a record price for an NBA franchise, have one of the best ownership groups ever assembled to purchase a professional sports team in the US, have clearly demonstrated that we have a much more solid Arena plan, have offered a much higher price than the yet to be finalized Sacramento Group, and have placed all of the funds to close the transaction into escrow.
“As such, we plan to unequivocally state our case for both relocation and our plan to move forward with the transaction to the league and owners at the upcoming Board of Governors Meeting in mid-May. When we started this process everyone thought it was impossible. While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal, I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up.”
Now, if the Hansen group is going to pay substantially more for the Kings than the Johnson-led group, would the league hand the team to Hansen? It’s an interesting question and there will be plenty of intrigue when the Board of Governors convenes May 13 to determine the Kings’ fate.
Hansen has a lot of backing in his quest. It would be best for Hansen to capitalize on a Seattle market that wants back in the NBA before it loses interest. It was that type of apathetic climate that allowed Clay Bennett to take the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
Bryant likes Lakers’ core
The Lakers were easily swept out of the first round by the Spurs, a sad and pathetic ending to one of the most disappointing seasons in team sports. Los Angeles acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the offseason to team with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and entered the season as a contender in the Western Conference.
What transpired were injuries, dysfunction, underachievement, and the final dagger, a torn left Achilles’ tendon for Bryant. The Lakers will try to re-sign Howard, perhaps amnesty Gasol, and figure out if Nash can physically withstand another season.
Bryant discussed the Lakers’ nightmare season and his uncertain future coming off the first major injury of his career.
“A little bit,” he told reporters when asked if he fears a roster shakeup. “I understand the cap situation, so that’s always a concern. Obviously I’m not the one who has to cut the check so all I can do is just give them my two cents.”
The Howard saga will continue into the summer. While the consensus is that Howard will return to the Lakers — what major free agent has ever left Los Angeles? — trying to determine Howard’s train of thought is a fruitless endeavor.
“It’s really just a matter of what he feels in his heart he wants to do,” Bryant said. “He’s reached a crossroads of his career. And I think Los Angeles is a perfect spot for him to assert himself and to put his foot down and have his career really take off and be where it should be. There’s no greater place for centers to play than here in Los Angeles.”
As for Gasol, Bryant said he has talked with general manager Mitch Kupchak and he wants Gasol to return, but the club could jettison Gasol, who will earn $19 million in the final year of his contract, to create some salary cap space. Gasol did not play well under coach Mike D’Antoni until the last couple of weeks, when the stubborn coach was practically forced to play him.
“I would really love to see our core guys come back,” Bryant said. “The rumors are swelling around Pau leaving here. It’s a no-brainer. We need him to get to where we need to go. My vote would be to keep him here. When I met with Mitch, I was pretty clear, I want Pau here.
“It seems to me this organization, no matter what it goes through, always seems to endure. It just always seems to land on its feet. It’s just one of those franchises that seems to figure things out.”
Bryant truly believes the Lakers can be a championship contender next season with their current core. Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, and Earl Clark are free agents. Jamison and Meeks likely won’t be asked back, while Clark is likely to earn a hefty raise from his rookie contract and the Lakers have the option of offering him an extension.
“I think just length, speed, and athleticism, a couple of guys who can provide that for us,” Bryant said when asked about his choice of changes. “[We had] a new coaching staff with a system that didn’t fit, so we had to work through that as well. So it was a constant process for us and we finally figured it out but we had to deal with injuries. We know what we need to do. We know how lethal we can be. So to break that apart and start with a group that’s fresh . . . ”
Bryant said he has no fear of returning from his injury at less than vintage form. Achilles’ injuries can be career-threatening and rob aging players of athleticism.
“The worst case is I lose some athleticism, I lose some speed,” he said. “I see a lot of guys who are not athletic and don’t have speed that are still pretty damn good and I think I’m a little better than them, so I think I can adjust.
“We can rise up again and we can do things we did before.”
The Bucks are going to try to make a splash in their coaching search after allowing interim coach Jim Boylan to depart after being swept out of the playoffs. There could be a great deal of change in Milwaukee as Monta Ellis is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent, seeking a long-term deal in the range of $10 million to $12 million per season. Brandon Jennings is also a restricted free agent. The Bucks made some questionable moves, such as trading Tobias Harris, an emerging standout, for a half season of J.J. Redick, an unrestricted free agent on the Celtics’ radar. Stan Van Gundy is a candidate but don’t expect the former Orlando coach to jump at a job with so much uncertainty. The Bucks will have salary cap space but can they attract a major free agent? The lack of sizzle won’t help nab an accomplished coach . . . The Suns are back at Square One after agreeing to part ways with GM Lance Blanks. The Suns not only have a coaching vacancy but they have cap space and expiring contracts in Marcin Gortat and the nonguaranteed contract of Shannon Brown. But now team president Lon Babby, a former agent for Ray Allen, has to hire a GM and coach. Former Sun Dan Majerle is interested in the coaching job, as well as ex-Suns assistant Elston Turner, who is interviewing for the Bobcats opening . . . Speaking of Charlotte, the Bobcats are lining up a list of veteran coaches and assistants for the job. This may be Michael Jordan’s most critical decision as owner. Assuming Ben Gordon accepts his player option for $13 million, the Bobcats will have about $18 million of cap space to chase a free agent. The question is whether any premium player would head to a team that has been putrid the past few years. The Jordan brand may not be a good enough sell for this one . . . Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson has joined the Pistons’ coaching search as a consultant, as the organization realizes this decision may mean Joe Dumars’s job. Nate McMillan appears to be the No. 1 candidate.