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From the moment that Jason Collins' announcement sent shockwaves through the sporting world, the questions hung in the air, unavoidable. Who's going to sign him now? Is anyone going to sign him? What kind of team would sign him? Nearly 10 months later, we have our answer.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 23, 2014
As first reported by Yahoo Sports NBA columnists Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears, someone will sign Collins, and it's the Brooklyn Nets. It's a team in need of an extra big body on their bench, a team led by a coach, Jason Kidd, who spent 6 1/2 years playing alongside Collins and has supported Collins' revelation since the start. It's a team with a roster chock full of veterans experienced in separating the external and extraneous from what matters on the floor. It's a team of grown-ups. It took us a while to get here, but we're here, and it's just about perfect.
Word that there might be a match between team and player began to circulate last week after the Nets season-ending foot injury, and that has since gotten even smaller by moving little-used reserve rebounder Reggie Evans to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for shooting guard Marcus Thornton.
''We're going to bring in a basketball player,'' King said, according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. ''It's not about marketing or anything like that.''
Whether marketing or public perception had anything to do with Brooklyn's decision-making, it's inevitable that adding Collins will draw an immense amount of media attention, both positive and negative, to a Nets team that has significantly underperformed its nine-figure salary sheet and (admittedly misguided) preseason expectations of title contention en route to a 25-28 record that has them clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Sunday's action. In the past — including the very recent past — many have argued that such increased attention could serve as a chaos-inducing distraction that might segment a locker room and derail the focus of a team aiming to make a playoff push.
Nets point guard Deron Williams acknowledged that a Collins signing would spark a media frenzy, but suggested that Brooklyn was precisely the sort of team equipped to handle it, according to Newsday's Rod Boone:
"I think it's definitely going to be a media circus just because of the situation," Williams said. "It'd be a historic day and so we definitely have to deal with that. But I think with the type of team that we have, veterans who have played with him before and know him, it shouldn't be a problem." [...]
"It's not him being a distraction," Williams said. "It's just the media coming along with it, because every city you go to, it's not just like you answer a question once and then it's over with. It's a recurring thing. But like I said, I don't think it would be a problem for us."
The general tenor: No "distraction" is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. From Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
“It’s 2014,” Deron Williams said Friday when asked if the NBA was ready for an openly gay player. "Michael Sam just came out, and his teammates welcomed him, and they’re in college. It’s time for the NBA, as well.”
Williams, the tip of the Nets' spear at the point guard position, wasn't the only Net to show support. Three other established veteran voices on the Nets roster — All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, all of whom have played with Collins in the past (Johnson on the Atlanta Hawks from 2009 through 2012, Garnett and Pierce with the 2012-13 Boston Celtics) — also spoke out in favor of a prospective Collins signing. More from Newsday's Boone:
"We would accept it greatly and it shouldn't be a problem, man," Joe Johnson said. "We've got a veteran group and I think everybody is pretty comfortable in their own skin. It's about what he can do to help us out there on that court. That's what it's about." [...]
"I'm sure the distractions will be just that: distractions," Kevin Garnett said. "But I don't think there will be issues. We are all men here. We all understand. We are professionals. We know how to coincide with one another, which is very important when dealing with distractions."
And more from Bontemps:
“No, I don’t think it would be too big of an issue with our team,” Pierce said. “We have enough veterans in the locker room and really phase that out and understand we have a job to do, and to try and win games.
“We’re in the stretch run of the season, and that’s what’s most important to us.”
Garnett was even more strident, saying the only thing that should matter is whether or not Collins is still able to help a team win.
“I think it’s important that anybody who has capabilities and skill level to have a chance to do something he’s great at or one of the things he’s good at,” Garnett said.
“I think it’d be biased and, in a sense racist, if you were to take that opportunity from a person.”
Support from far afield is one thing, and it's a great thing — as TrueHoop's Kevin Arnovitz wrote Sunday, having everyone "from the White House to grassroots organizations [...] honoring [your] courage [is] about as validating as an experience can get as a human being." But it's not quite the same as receiving that same sort of recognition and validation from the people with whom you'll be working every day, with whom you'll be sharing locker rooms and team flights and shootarounds and pivotal possessions and everything else that goes into being a professional athlete competing at the highest level of your sport. If we take these veterans at their word, it appears that Collins will have that when he shows up to Staples Center to join the Nets as they take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
When Collins came out, we wondered, as surely he must have, if he'd find a landing spot where the people around him would be willing and able to accept and welcome, and let the game be the game. With these Brooklyn Nets, it seems he has. That matters. That's massive. That's how history is helped to happen.
Four months ago, Collins' twin, fellow long-time NBA big man Jarron Collins, was left with little more than hope that his brother would find himself wearing an NBA uniform again. On Sunday, his hope becomes firm, incontrovertible reality. That must feel pretty good.
Hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday. Today should be a pretty cool day!
— jarron collins (@jarronctwin) February 23, 2014
Yeah, it should, Jarron. And good on the Nets' collection of clear-eyed, professional grown-ups for being willing to make it one.
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