In the days to come, when the Heat’s second-round opponent is known, attention will turn fully back to basketball. On Tuesday, however, as Miami resumed activities following its sweep of Milwaukee, the media had something else in mind.
This was the day after free agent NBA center Jason Collins, through a first-person article in Sports Illustrated, became the first active athlete in a major U.S. team sport to reveal he is gay. As that story spread, numerous NBA players expressed their support, including Dwyane Wade on Twitter and Shane Battier through an Associated Press story.
This was also the day after Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace had created a controversy by tweeting: “All these beautiful women in the world and guys wanna mess with other guys. SMH (shaking my head).”
It was a safe bet that, in light of the current climate and their collective savvy, Heat players would sidestep similar trouble, even if — deep down — they aren’t completely comfortable with something related to homosexuality. And they did.
It was also expected that some of the interactions would be awkward, since it isn’t normal for athletes to talk to reporters about another athlete’s personal life, even if the other athlete is heterosexual. And they were.
Still, it was important for some Heat players to say something, if simply because silence might have spoken louder. And since LeBron James is the face of the league, and he did not tweet Monday while on a self-imposed social media sabbatical, it mattered most for him to lend his voice.
What did he think of Collins’ step?
“It was a strong thing to do,” James said. “I think it’s very cool, man. None of us should go around wondering about what other people we should be as human beings. I think it’s very strong of him. …. I’ve got the utmost respect for Jason and whatever he wants to do.”
Collins is 34, has played for five franchises since 2007, is offensively limited, and doesn’t fit the NBA’s current small-ball craze. So there was no guarantee that a team would have signed him, even before his announcement.
If one does, how should fans and teammates receive him?
“Our sport is, if you can play the game, then that’s all that matters,” James said.
That was the viewpoint most commonly expressed by Heat players, including the one who actually played with Collins. Mike Miller was a teammate on the 2007-08 Memphis Grizzlies. In his article, Collins mentioned that he was training in the Santa Monica Mountains with a German Shepherd named Shadow that he had bought from Miller.
Collins added that he hoped Miller simply recalled this about him: “I enjoyed being his teammate, and I sold him a dog.”
Miller did state those things Tuesday, calling Collins an “unbelievable” teammate and expressing satisfaction that “my dogs had good puppies.”
Then Miller said more — that it struck him as unfair to Collins to need to keep a secret so long.
“It doesn’t change who you are as a person,” Miller said.
So will this lead to others feeling more comfortable coming out?
“I think it will,” Miller said. “And I think it should.”
The most passionate Heat player Tuesday?
That was Chris Andersen, who has overcome drug problems to become an impactful NBA player but still – with his tattoos and Mohawk — doesn’t conform to everyone’s idea of how to look or act.
“Who am I to judge, and who is everybody else to judge what kind of person he is?” Andersen asked. “I ain’t no one to judge anybody in any situation.”
Andersen bristled at any notion that Collins would not be accepted, arguing that “everybody’s different” and “times are a’ changing.”
“He has been accepted for the past 12 years he’s been in the league,” Andersen said. “So what makes a difference? Just because he came out? I don’t think so.”
Andersen also called Collins “a great leader” who could likely handle what was coming his way.
“Oh, it’s tough,” Andersen said. “But having the tough shoulders and a tough mind, to carry that load, takes a very, very special person.
“Being in my situation, I just overpowered all the thoughts and all the criticism that I got from fans and non-fans. So he’s probably going to go through a lot of criticism, but he’s getting a lot of praise as well. And he’s definitely got my backing.”
What does Andersen say now to those who don’t accept him?
“Oh, I don’t give a damn,” he said. “This is who I am. This is who I’m going to be.”
Which, in more polished words, is roughly what Jason Collins told the world Monday.