After announcing in April that he is gay, Jason Collins has yet to land with an NBA team as a free agent. What does it mean? Our NBA experts weigh in.
1. How surprised are you to not see Collins on a training camp roster?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Only a little. He's a borderline NBA player who comes with the potential for some PR hassles. But what's troubling to me is the degree to which NBA teams fail to embrace guts. It's not weird to me that nobody would want his game. But it is weird to me that nobody would take the chance to welcome an honest, real-world, risk-taking leader into their culture.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Pretty surprised. After so many teams and key figures in the NBA -- especially David Stern -- went out of their way to applaud Jason Collins' courage in coming out, you'd think someone would take the logical next step and sign him. This is sending the exact opposite of the message the league wanted to provide.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Surprised. Collins is in top shape and carries a reputation for being one of the most positive and professional teammates in the game. There are also a handful of owners who regard their franchises as vehicles for making the occasional social statement, and I thought at least one would find the prospect of hiring Collins attractive -- especially given the goodwill for him around the league.
Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: I'm more disappointed than surprised. I really thought that at least one team would've invited him to camp, or made sure that such a brave, important moment in sports history ended well. But the more I got to thinking about the situation, I can see how we ended up here. The truth is, Jason Collins has a skill set that's diminishing in value in today's NBA. There aren't a ton of true centers for him to defend. Heck, they don't even have a center category in the All-Star Game anymore. Personally, I still think he can play and help a team. But the number of jobs for guys like him has shrunk in recent years, and at 34 years old, he's got a lot of competition.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Not very surprised. He was barely hanging on to his spot in the league last season and the timing is wrong. Not for his sexuality but because with the new tax rules fewer teams that would actually need a veteran big man who is good in the locker room, and Collins is, want to spend the money for that spot.
2. Do you think it's really basketball-related?
Abbott: It really could be. He's hardly a must-have for any roster. His only real skill is stopping go-to post scorers, but there aren't that many of them anymore, and teams have had big success stopping them by committee, anyway. On the other hand, there are players on NBA rosters right now with less demonstrable skill.
Adande: It can't simply be about basketball when we've seen two other big men who didn't play a minute last season (Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum) sign contracts over the summer. Maybe Collins didn't do much on the court last season, but he did more than those two, who might have greater upside, but also have greater risk. And I have yet to meet a general manager who ever told me he had enough big men to satisfy him.
Arnovitz: There are a range of factors at play: (1) The silent majority of NBA players are still uneasy about sharing close space with a gay man. (2) Even those who aren't would prefer to play without the media glare that will shine on a team with the first openly gay player. So even if their motivation is (1), they can use (2) as cover. (3) NBA teams are carrying more perimeter players on their rosters at the exclusion of the hulking 7-footers with limited skill sets. Even if that number is 0.5 fewer big men per roster, that's 15 guys with Collins' profile who aren't getting invites they might have in years past.
Shelburne: I think it's mostly basketball related. If it was entirely basketball related, Collins would've been of those training camp invitees who have almost no shot of making the roster. But since he is the first openly gay NBA player, any team that brings him in has to consider the attention that signing will bring, and the potential fallout if and when it cuts him.
Windhorst: Mostly. I do think there's at least some element of teams not wanting excess attention for a guy who is their 15th man. Teams may not want their players having to deal with questions about it and the coach may not want to be analyzed for not activating or playing him. But that can go both ways because there might be a team or two that would embrace attention under certain circumstances.
3. How does it reflect on the league that Collins hasn't been signed?
Abbott: The league office took something of a victory lap as the first major league with an out, active player when Collins came out of the closet. But that felt funny to me, from a league whose commissioner once went out of his way to say "I don't want to become a social crusader on this issue." Now it feels funny another way, too: If it turns out Collins was de facto retired when he came out ... in what way did the NBA break new ground again?
Adande: Not good. The NBA could have taken the lead on this prominent social issue. Instead of looking progressive it's coming off as regressive.
Arnovitz: Is it a blemish? Maybe not, but it's a setback nonetheless. Basketball reasons or no basketball reasons, the NBA can't rightly claim its tolerance welcomed an openly gay player with open arms until such a player is actively on an NBA roster.
Shelburne: In a way, it's a good thing that Collins is being treated like any other player in this league. It would be demeaning for him to be signed simply for the positive PR it would bring that team and the league. But because he's the first openly gay NBA player, the fact that he hasn't been signed leaves open the possibility -- even though I don't think it's correct -- that teams don't want to bring him in because of what it might mean in their locker room. The best-case scenario for everyone involved is for a team to eventually sign Collins for the right reasons -- if he can still help it on the court.
Windhorst: I think the NBA is generally regarded as the most progressive of the major sports leagues. It is not a surprise at all that the first openly gay athlete in major team sports came from the NBA. If Collins was two or three years younger or was able to jump or rebound a bit better then he'd be on a roster and in a rotation without question.
4. Will this affect other athletes thinking about coming out in the future?
Abbott: How could it not? Imagine the positive: Collins playing 82 games, traveling from arena to arena, building mutual respect with opponents, coaches, fans, teammates and the like ... that would do powerful good to defuse sports' silly fear of homosexuality, while sending an awesome message to in-the-closet NBA players and athletes everywhere. These opportunities don't come around very often.
Adande: It will if they don't have a guaranteed contract. A player who is talented enough to feel safe that he won't be cut or left unsigned should still feel a little more comfortable coming out. But this serves as a lesson to players on the fringe of the league: Don't provide any other potential reasons for a team not to sign you.
Arnovitz: You bet. People who live in fear tend to look for reasons to remain in fear. Until an openly gay player is offered monetary compensation for his basketball services, the message most closeted players will take away is that living openly and with dignity can have serious professional repercussions. Whether that's an entirely logical conclusion doesn't change the perception.
Shelburne: Absolutely, and in the best possible way. Regardless of whether Jason Collins plays another game in the NBA, what he did last spring was remarkable and brave. It helped him, the NBA, all of professional sports and every future athlete thinking of coming out in the future. Personally, I'd love for him to get another opportunity in the NBA, but if this is where his story ends, it's still a giant step forward for our society.
Windhorst: It's hard to say. No one can know what Collins' experience is until it's over. I don't think we know enough to say and everyone's situation will be different.
5. Will we see Collins in the NBA this season?
Abbott: As a fan of basic human rights, and of seeing everybody treated with dignity ... I sure hope so.
Adande: Eventually. There will be injuries, there will be roster spots available and at that point a team will be looking for someone who is 7 feet tall, regardless of his sexual orientation.
Arnovitz: I think so. When rostered big men go down over the course of the season, the market for frontcourt players begins to heat up, and Collins is exactly the sort of player teams sign as insurance for the end of their bench. Well, maybe not exactly the sort of player. Collins is an openly gay man, after all.
Shelburne: Yes. I think it might be awhile. Maybe January after teams cut loose players on nonguaranteed contracts, but I do think his skill set and leadership ability are still valuable enough to earn one last go-round in the league. I'm biased here. I really want him to get another shot and believe it's important for both him and the NBA that he gets one, but there's a decent chance of the right situation developing this winter for it to happen.
Windhorst: I think there's a good chance someone will sign him. Teams always end up looking for size as the season goes along and Collins is a guy who can come in and defend, which is mostly what is in demand. Knowing the people in this league the way I do, I would think many of them would feel pride in being the one to give Collins a historic chance.