BROOKLYN, N.Y. — It was a similar scene that the NBA world watched eight days earlier. Amidst a jungle of rapidly clicking camera shutters, Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins fielded questions about his sexuality and basketball acumen from a constellation of reporters, approaching them with the same respectful, unenthused tone of a store clerk asking paper or plastic. He talked about a desire to win basketball games the way any fourteenth man would. He laughed at the amount of people who were at the press conference, the first for an openly gay NBA athlete in his home arena.
He admitted that the process of playing basketball was new to him, too. “There’s a learning curve,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been doing this for the past 12 years, but at the same time, before Sunday, the last time I played was in April. (So I’m) just trying to get timing back, do what I do out there on the court: set screens on the offensive end, and on the defensive end, be big, use my size and strength.”
Collins kept it as mundane as possible while remaining personable. He thanked fans for buying his jersey — the #1 jersey in the NBA store for the first four days running — and talked about seeing his uncle in Rockaway Beach. He said he was surprised by and thankful for the positive reaction from fans and players, noting that “not one” person had said a negative, derogatory thing, but he was just there to set screens and play defense. He had not heard about his reported second ten-day contract.
He has not traveled Brooklyn’s wide array of cultural locales. When asked about his first day home in New Jersey, Collins said plainly: “I went to Costco.” Because when you’re a barrier-shattering athlete and suddenly the most popular player in the NBA, the first thing you do is stock up on paper towels.
Bulk supermarket chains that I once bought 80 pounds of frozen hamburger meat at aside, this was another milestone rendered irrelevant merely by Collins’s presence. He stepped to the podium, laughed about the importance of his role, shrugged off comparisons to Jackie Robinson (“I’m just trying to be Jason Collins,” he said, echoing this guy’s sentiment), and walked back to the locker room.
Collins will deal with this everywhere he goes, but he won’t do it again in Brooklyn. He’ll field questions like everyone else, but soon enough he’ll be just what he wants to be — the last man on the bench keeping everyone in line.