Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Collins finds welcoming home with Brooklyn Nets

AP

He signed a 10-day contract, one of the toughest deals in sports because it gives non-superstars almost no time to impress their coaches and teammates in hopes of sticking around.

With this group, Collins did that long ago: The Nets locker room is filled with former teammates who have already accepted the league’s first openly gay player and his on-court habits, which are the ones that matter most to them.

“Guys already know what to expect from me,” Collins said.

That made it the ideal place for his historic return to the NBA.

Perhaps, as numerous players insisted after Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated article last April, athletes were ready to accept a gay teammate. Maybe Collins would have been welcomed anywhere he signed.

Maybe not. As a bullying scandal involving the Miami Dolphins proved, the locker room can be a place where abusive language can divide a team and threaten to derail a season, to say nothing of the fallout for the players themselves.

However, the loudest voices with the Nets belong to the team leaders and they have already made up their mind about Collins.

Old teammate Jason Kidd coaches the team. Collins played with Joe Johnson in Atlanta, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Boston, and they are now the respected veterans in Brooklyn.

“I know those guys over there in Brooklyn. It’s a veteran locker room, so they’re very mature, and they’re going to accept him,” Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins said.

“It’s a perfect place with Kevin and Paul. He was with us in Boston, so they know what he can do defensively,” Clippers and former Celtics coach Doc Rivers added.

Collins played for six-and-a-half years with the Nets, where some in the organization still call him “Twin,” his nickname when he played for them, and reached the NBA Finals with Kidd in 2002 and 2003.

“You look at all the connections that Jason has,” Kidd said, naming not only Jason Collins’ former teammates, but also some who played with his twin brother, Jarron, “and also being that he played with the Nets before, this is a great opportunity for him.”

Brooklyn proudly boasts of its diversity — Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier playing for the Dodgers — and the Nets’ locker room makeup fits. Right next to Pierce and Garnett, toward one corner of their room at Barclays Center, are Russian Andrei Kirilenko and Bosnian Mirza Teletovic.

They are owned by a Russian, Mikhail Prokhorov, who clearly does not share his country’s anti-gay policies.

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