Jason Collins has a week and a half to prove himself to the Brooklyn Nets.
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 know to expect from me. It’s like, OK, he’s not going to magically have a 40-inch vertical (leap) and shoot 3s,” Collins said.
Old teammate Jason Kidd coaches the Nets. 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, KG and those guys, played with him in Boston, and they’re going to welcome him with open arms,” said Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins, who also played with Pierce and Garnett with the Celtics. “It’s a veteran locker room, so they’re very mature, and they’re going to accept him.”
Collins played 6 ½ 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 2003 and 2003. One of his first calls when he came out last April was to Kidd.
“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, so I think this is a great opportunity for him.”
Brooklyn proudly boasts of its diversity — Jackie Robinson broke 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 Mirza Teletovic from Bosnia.
They are owned by a Russian, Mikhail Prokhorov, who clearly doesn’t share his country’s anti-gay policies. Prokhorov isn’t afraid to take chances, firing Avery Johnson last December after he’d been Eastern Conference coach of the month in November, and later hiring Kidd when he had no previous coaching experience.
Signing Collins is another risk, but only because he’s 35 with limited offensive skills and hadn’t played in the NBA since finishing last season with Washington.