In the little time Jerry Stackhouse spent as Jason Collins' teammate during the 2011-12 season in Atlanta, Collins won over the Brooklyn Nets forward. Stackhouse can fondly recall playing card games on planes with the center and how Collins always used to lend him extra tickets.
Monday, Collins announced that he is gay, becoming the first active athlete in a United States men's team sport to do so. Stackhouse had nothing but kind words of support and praise for his former teammate.
"I'm just totally in support. Jason is a great teammate," Stackhouse said before Game 5 against Chicago. "I think if there's anybody that can carry that mantra and the character to stand behind it and carry the flag for other players, I think it's Jason. He was a great teammate and I wish him the best."
Stackhouse, 38, talked Monday with Collins and said Collins said he was tired of not being able to be himself. Stackhouse said he told Collins the big man was one of his favorite teammates and he's going to be encouraging others to support Collins. He hopes this is a monumental day for the league.
"If there's someone to do it and someone who has the personality, the smarts and the character to do it, I think Jason is the guy," Stackhouse said. "We're going to hopefully rally around him not only our league, [but] our player's union and our general body. We can educate each other. I think this is only going to spark great dialogue, and I think a lot of times that subject is something guys shy away from, but I think now that we can have healthy dialogue and try to ease those fears."
Collins spent time this season with Boston and Washington and is now a free agent. Stackhouse said he believes it would do wonders for the league to have a team sign Collins. He joked that he hopes David Stern could pull some strings and land Collins a roster spot.
"I think the real response would be once he gets a job," Stackhouse said. "I'm pulling for him to be able to play with that in the league. I'm interested to see how he performs without carrying that burden that he's carried for the 12 years he's been in the league and probably longer in his life. Just having that weight off his shoulders, how great he can perform at his craft with that weight lifted."
Collins' announcement comes on the same day the Nets try to keep their season alive against the Bulls, who have a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Stackhouse entertained questions for 18 minutes prior to the game and said it puts things into perspective.
"[It] just lets us know there's a lot of things a lot bigger than the game. We live and die ... on a night-to-night basis because this is our job and what we do," Stackhouse said. "But people are facing a lot bigger issues than winning a basketball game. Whether we win this game or play a Game 6 ... there's a lot of uncertain roads for one of our brothers going forward. And that's why I think we need to support him not only as a league, not only as a union, not only as a body, but just as human beings, and I think that the fact this is a big day for us."