Sometimes the lines and boundaries painted across and around the hardwood floor can serve as means of discipline and life lessons. Players across the NBA are praised or criticized based on what they do within those lines, but outside those lines is how life should be measured.
It’s different for certain players. Some are playing with a heavy heart with so many people looking up to them not just for their basketball skill, but rather for their character and how they represent something even bigger than a win or a loss.
We take a quick look to appreciate some amazing things a few Nets’ players have accomplished off the court, to go along with a great season on the court.
Jason Collins went from being an unknown NBA veteran, to a hero amongst millions throughout the world. The story of how Collins became the first gay professional athlete in American sports will be told for years to come, just as another Brooklyn hero did in 1947,Jackie Robinson.
Maybe it’s time we stop emphasizing that we now have a gay athlete in the NBA, because really, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But, it does seem appropriate that Collins gets the credit he deserves for being himself and not only liberating himself, but other gay athletes around the nation.
Two college athletes with dreams and aspirations of becoming professional athletes came out after Collins’ made his announcement. Michael Sam, now of the St. Louis Rams, made his announcement while still in college at the University of Missouri. Collins was unable to watch Sam become the first gay NFL player to be drafted. He was getting ready for Game Three of the Miami series, but said, "It's just another example of a person being their authentic true self and being accepted and earning a job as a professional athlete."
Derrick Gordon, a sophomore basketball player for the University of Massachusetts Amherst came out on April 9th and credited Collins for helping him have the courage to be free. Gordon let it be known that he struggled to finally come out, but seeing Collins finally get signed to a deal, ultimately helped him make his decision.
That’s not all. Collins was voted TIME’S 100 most influential people’ list. Fellow friend and Stanford grad, Chelsea Clinton, cited Collins as a pioneer in her piece honoring him.
"Jason’s kindness and fierceness alike derive from that word too often bandied about and too rarely true: integrity. Jason has always maintained he’s first a basketball player. He is. But he’s also a leader and an inspiration. For Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and others whose names we may never know. And also for those of us lucky enough to be fans — or to call him our friend. "
Collins’ contract has expired and the Nets are not expected to re-sign him this off-season, but he made his mark.
Mirza Teletovic came from a war-torn Bosnia. The captain of the Bosnian national team --aka The King of Bosnia-- brightened up the lives of many Bosnians this season after enduring war and hunger in the 1990's and now devastating floods. After a disappointing rookie season, Teletovic was finally able to make his name heard not just in his homeland but the arenas of the NBA. He averaged 8.6 points in 19 minutes per game.
He grew up in the early to mid-1990s during his country's civil war. Teletovic's town, Jablanica, was often hit with artillery which forced his family to reconstruct his house on more than a few occasions. He found love in a place that helped him escape reality, a basketball court 200 yards away.
"You can't go far away from your house. Imagine they start bombing, you have to run to your house," he said. "You have to be close to your house and the closest thing for me was the basketball court."
Prior to the 2013-2014 season, the Nets’ backup power forward attended the burial of 400 identified bodies from the 1995 Bosnian genocide at Srbrenica. Although 8,000 deaths of Bosnian men and boys were recorded in the worst example of genocide in Europe since World War II, bodies are still being identified. Teletovic being a victim of the Bosnian war himself, represented his country and the NBA in an extremely courageous matter.
Before certain games, sirens would go off to fire up the home crowd. For Teletovic, the sirens brought back bad memories. They reminded him of air raid sirens he heard as a child.
So, you can imagine LeBron James wasn’t too intimidating for Teletovic.
In 2007 playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Shaun Livingston lost his balance on a layup and landed awkwardly on his knee. What looked to be a horrifying injury, resulted in a torn ACL, torn PCL, torn lateral meniscus, while badly spraining his MCL, and dislocating his patella and his tibia-femoral joint.
Prior to being signed with the Nets to a one-year deal, Livingston played for eight different teams. Doctors questioned his ability to be able to even walk after the injury, nonetheless play a full game of basketball at a professional level. There was talk of amputation in the emergency room. Despite struggling to regain his athleticism and skill for all eight teams, the Nets took a risk on Livingston.
Unlike Jason Collins and Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston’s production on the court makes this story what it is. A guy who nearly had his leg amputated, worked hard every single day to get where he ultimately ended up. He was signed to become the backup point guard to Deron Williams, but Livingston caused matchup problems for opposing teams, which led to Jason Kidd installing him into the starting lineup at shooting guard.
Livingston started 54 games for the Nets and averaged 8.3 points per game in 26 minutes of action. It was his highest points per game total since his knee injurie(s) occurred back in the 2006-2007 season.
Unfortunately the Nets signed Livingston to only a one-year deal. Billy King has said that re-signing Livingston is their "number one goal this offseason." With Livingston’s incredible comeback story the talk of the NBA this season, it’s no shock that other teams around the league are interested in signing the 6’7 veteran. Other players have credited Livingston for his bounce back season:
If there was a "comeback player of the year" award, Shaun Livingston would win that..— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) March 18, 2014
Livingston earned a little over $1 million in the 2013-2014 season. You can be sure wherever he ends up, it'll be more than that and if this year was any indication, a significant amount will be earmarked for his foundation which helps the needy in his hometown, Peoria.
The recognition these three players receive is well deserved, but it’s unfair to forget what some other players have accomplished off the court as well.
- Deron Williams continued his support for Autism Awareness. Williams, who has a foundation of his own called ‘Point of Hope’, teamed up with ‘Autism Speaks’ at the Barclays Center on April 11th against the Atlanta Hawks.
- On March 6th, the Nets signed Jorge Gutierrez to a 10-day deal (eventually a two-year deal), which made Gutierrez the fourth Mexican native to ever play in the NBA. In the 15 games played as a Net, Gutierrez averaged 4 points in 16 minutes of action. More importantly, he may also be the first undocumented immigrant to make an NBA team.
It was a season filled with great victories and heartbreaking losses, but at the end of the day, we have to put things into perspective. Whether the actions displayed are caused by the courage to feel free in your own skin, or resilience built up due to the adversity one has faced, these player’s voices and stories were certainly enough to make a huge impact on many.
The Nets were filled with leaders on an off the court.
- TIME's '100 Most Influential People' list includes Jason Collins - Net Income - NetsDaily
- Jason Collins on Michael Sam: 'A great day' - Ian Begley - ESPN New York
- Derrick Gordon, UMass Basketball Player, On Feeling 'Ecstatic' After Coming Out And Jason Collins' Influence - Mike Signorile - Huffington Post
- Basketball was refuge for Nets' Mirza Teletovic - Jeff Zillgit - USA TODAY Sports
- Brooklyn Nets: How some low risk, high reward moves have worked in their favor - Anthony Puccio -NetsDaily