Jason Collins: Out And Still Unemployed

Jason Collins was non-descript center playing out the string of the end of a non-descript NBA career. That changed a few months ago when Collins became the first athlete from a major North American sports league to go public with his homosexuality. Now, just a couple of weeks before the start of a new NBA season, Collins remains unsigned. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks to Robert Siegel to explore some of the reasons why.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In April, the veteran pro basketball player Jason Collins revealed that he is gay. Collins received a lot of support from fellow players, from fans, even from President Obama. Collins was a free agent at the time, and what he has not received since then is a contract. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: The NBA's regular season starts in less than two weeks. At this point, it seems unlikely that Collins will be on a team, right?

FATSIS: Oh, yeah. Teams are playing preseason games now. Players are coming and going. Collins has given a few interviews in recent weeks, and he's saying the right things - that he doesn't he's being blackballed by teams because of his announcement. You don't want to speculate, he told the New York Times last week; but he also said, I feel there are players in the league right now that quite frankly, I'm better than.

SIEGEL: Well, if Collins is correct in that self-assessment, why hasn't a team signed him?

FATSIS: Well, the two most common theories are ability and money. He's 34. He's a 7-foot center with extremely limited offensive skills, and I'm being kind when I say extremely limited. His value is that of a few-minutes-off-the-bench defensive replacement to play against a big center on the other team, and he'd cost the veteran minimum 1.4 million, so there are plenty of other cheaper options.

On the other hand, he's still good at what he does. And more important, he is, by all accounts, a respected, stable, mature leader. And other teams have signed big guys with limited skills. Miami signed Greg Oden. He's had those five knee surgeries. He hasn't even played since 2010. Houston signed Marcus Camby. He's 39 years old.

SIEGEL: Well, all that seems to imply that Collins' coming out is, in fact, playing a role in the inability he's finding to catch on with another team.

FATSIS: Yeah. NBA Commissioner David Stern told the Times that the league has been in touch with Collins' agent; believes the teams have been making decisions for basketball reasons only. But it's impossible to know. I'm sure that there are some team executives who have voted against the media scrutiny of signing Collins, the fear that he wouldn't be accepted in the locker room by everybody. But I'm also pretty sure that the progressive-minded Stern would like to see Jason Collins signed because even the possibility that those other factors are what are keeping him from the court again, makes the league look bad.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to pro basketball health notes now. The NBA took its pre-season schedule to China this week. The Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers played in Beijing and earlier today, in Shanghai. Kobe Bryant, of the Lakers, did not play.

FATSIS: No, he's recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered late in the season. But he did travel with the team. He ran and shot pregame, and the crowd was thrilled with that. It's not clear that he's gonna be ready for the Lakers' first game, but it sounds like he will be fairly soon.

Easy to forget that Kobe Bryant is 35. He's been in the NBA for more than half of his life. This will be his 18th season, and he remains as obsessive and driven now as when he was a teenager - a teenager who, I learned from a profile in Sports Illustrated this week, turned down role of Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee's movie "He Got Game" after his rookie season because he wanted to focus on weight training.

SIEGEL: Also returning from injury this year, on a longer timetable, is a former MVP - Derrick Rose, of the Chicago Bulls.

FATSIS: Yeah. Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the ACL, in one of his knees in April of 2012. He sat out all of last season, and that drew a lot of media and fan criticism. He didn't play even after he had been medically cleared. Now he's back, playing confidently in the preseason. He scored 22 points in 22 minutes the other night, and he says he's fully recovered physically and mentally.

SIEGEL: Stefan, have a great weekend. Enjoy the basketball, the hockey, the baseball and the football.

FATSIS: Oh, God. I can't watch all of that, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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