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BOSTON (CBS) – Like most of the sports world, the Boston Celtics are happy for their former teammate Jason Collins.
On Monday, the 34-year-old Collins came out as the first openly gay athlete in the four major U.S. sports.
Collins actually called Celtics captain Paul Pierce on Monday morning before the article he wrote for Sports Illustrated broke the news to the world.
“To each his own; I think it’s going to open a door to many more,” Pierce said at the Celtics practice facilities on Tuesday. “There are so many professional athletes, and human beings, that live a dark life that are afraid to expose it because it exposes your sport and what people might think about them. What he did was a great thing, to just open a door to a number of athletes that are going to have the courage to come out.”
“I’m happy for him; being able to be himself,” said Kevin Garnett. “We here support everything he’s doing and I’m just happy for him.”
“It looks like he had a huge weight lifted off of him,” said Jason Terry. “That’s all you can ask; for any man and woman to be at peace with themselves and then you can find that ultimate happiness. I think that’s where he is.”
Though Collins only spent half a season in Boston before being sent to Washington at the trade deadline, his former teammates remember him as being the consummate professional on and off the court.
“While he was here I thought he was very professional, and we need more guys like that,” said Pierce. “The way he carried himself and what he did off the court; in practice he was one of the more professional players you’ll see. There was the time at the beginning of the year when he didn’t play much, but what you saw from him was a guy who came in and got his work done and didn’t complain. We need more guys like him.”
“Being a teammate of his, I know how hard he works and how dedicated he is to his craft,” said Terry. “He was a great teammate. Regardless of his sexual preference, it didn’t matter to me, I liked him as a teammate and I still do.”
Terry said he would love to have Collins and his work ethic back next season, and it’s something the Celtics could use now as they fight for their playoff lives against the New York Knicks.
“We need his toughness; we would love it in this series,” said Terry. “He was one of the toughest guys in the NBA.”
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers agrees with that assessment. Collins broke the news to Rivers recently, and Doc was one of the first to praise Collins on Monday.
“I told him before he said it, ‘Jason I could care less about what you’re about to tell me.’ I could care less what any of you guys do. It’s a non-factor to me, and I know it’s a factor to a lot of people. I just never understand why anyone cares about what someone does – you know what I mean? I said it will be a non-issue eventually, but it will not be right now.”
Rivers also thinks Collins can handle all the questions and potential backlash that will follow him after the announcement.
“Every time he goes to a new city someone will want to talk about it,” said Doc. “There may be some guy in the crowd that may want to voice his opinion, but they voice their opinions pretty well when we’re on the road; it’s just white noise at the end of the day.”
“I’m sure when Jackie Robinson went on the road, some of the things he heard all went away eventually,” said Doc.
Collins is a free agent, and will have to find a new team to continue his 12-year NBA career. But Rivers doesn’t think he’ll have any issues no matter where his new locker room may be.
“I just think we’re passed it,” he said. “I just think players want to play and they want to win. I think that’s all they care about, and that’s all they should care about.”