On historic evening in L.A., Jason Collins spurs reactions from columnists, fans, teammates

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Pierce wascertainly the most eloquent ... with an understanding of the moment he was not only witnessing but had a crucial role in.

"It doesn’t matter your race, your gender, your sexuality or any of that. It’s about being part of a team, it’s about caring for one another, and that’s all that matters at the end of the day. Every guy in here goes their own way, does their own things, and so be it.

"But when we come in the locker room … this is sports and everything is magnified. It’s great to have him here, and to just be able to open up the doors for so many athletes, that they can feel comfortable to come out and not feel embarrassed to be a part of something."

Deron Williams was no doubt the most succinct.

"I’m happy to see him on a team, and I’m happy he’s on our team."

Kobe Bryant, whose team lost to Collins, took it outside the locker room. He said the most enduring effect will be illuminating the way for young people.

"There is a kid out there who … is going to say, 'Jason gave me strength in dark moments to be brave. He gave me courage to step up and accept myself for who I am despite what others might be saying or the public pressures. He gave me strength and bravery to be myself.'"

For the fans, the reaction was mostly positive, with some resistance, some use of code words, etc., as we saw on our board.

Across the city and the country, from New York to Los Angeles, everyone --teammates, former teammates, fans and the nation's basketball writers-- wanted to capture, in their own way, what the arrival of Jason Collins means to the sport, to the society.

Dave D'Alessandro, who covered "Twin" for the Star-Ledger when he played his first 510 games with the Nets, wrote of a player who loved the background, fought the spotlight and was playing that same unselfish game on the national stage, preparing to help whatever way he could.

"If he can play, he’ll play," Dave D wrote. "And then another gay player will come along, and, frankly, probably play much better. By then, hopefully, we’ll have crossed over from the condescending virtue of tolerance to authentic respect."

The Times' Harvey Araton offered an equally articulate column and  like D'Alessandro used a basketball metaphor. He seized on Collins reputation for being in the right spot on the court making what goes on around him work better. He didn't say it, but it's what John McPhee once wrote of Bill Bradley and basketball, "A sense of where you are."

"Far from a distraction or liability, Collins can be counted on as an adult who embraces his role, no matter how few minutes he gets or how many weeks he lasts," wrote Araton. "As he did Sunday night on a few hours’ notice, Collins will be ready to plant himself in the lane, grab a rebound, give a hard foul."

In interviews, Collins himself was having none of it, only once discussing in a somewhat oblique way what it's all about: being true, being authentic.  After the game, he gave the best explanation of why he's doing what he's doing.

"I love basketball,' he said with a smile. "Basketball is fun."  That should be enough.

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