Celtics coach Doc Rivers coached Jason Collins for 32 games at the start of this season before Collins was traded to the Wizards at the February deadline for scoring guard Jordan Crawford. Before Collins came out in SI as the first openly gay male athlete in a major American league, Rivers had referred to him as "one of the best guys" that Rivers had ever been around in the NBA.
"He is terrific," said Rivers on Monday. "Losing him was hard for me because I just thought he was such a great teammate and such a great guy in the locker room. That's what you want is those guys in your locker room.
"He just was honest. He was an honest teammate. He worked hard. He did anything you asked him to do. He accepted his role."
Collins averaged only 10.3 minutes per game for the Celtics, and yet the 7-foot center served as a constructive example for the rest of the team.
"He didn't play all the time, but when he did play he was ready," said Rivers. "What I was impressed with was how much he prepared. There are a lot of players who are not playing and then when you need them, they're not ready to play because they don't prepare. You could bring Jason Collins in at any point in the game, and he has studied the opposing team's scouting report like he thought he was going to be playing 40 minutes that night. And he did it that way every time.
"It actually became something the players talked about. I remember one time in a timeout, I asked the question of Jason -- 'You know you have to do this' on a certain play, and he said, 'Yeah, I know.' And in the huddle [Rajon] Rondo said, 'Don't ever question Jason Collins -- if anybody knows the other team's stuff, it's Jason Collins.' And the other guys started laughing. It was really cool, the sign of the fact that he was so prepared and everyone knew it."
Throughout his 13 seasons as an NBA player and 14 seasons as a head coach, Rivers said he never worried about whether there were gay players on his teams.
"I never thought it was going to be an issue," he said. "I thought it would eventually happen, and people would talk about it for awhile, and then it would go away. I'm really proud of Jason. He still can play. He'll be active in our league, I hope, and we can get by this -- get past this. I think it would be terrific for the league. More than anything, it would just be terrific for mankind, my gosh."
Rivers predicted that Collins, 34, will be able to overcome the obstacles he may face next season. After all, he is not the first pioneer in pro sports.
"After watching the movie about Jackie Robinson you learn that there were some teammates who didn't want Jackie, then they kind of learned to understand he was good; and then no one cared," said Rivers. "But more important, what you learn from that movie,
"Then it will go away. You rarely hear any racial slurring in the crowd anymore, but you did -- you used to when Jackie first played. But it went away. I think it will be the same in this case."
Rivers hoped that Collins' revelation would begin to bring an end to questions of sexuality in sports.
"I never gave it a thought, I could care less," said Rivers. "Every once in awhile you would hear about it from a player or a coach, but listen to me -- I was brought up better than that. I don't care. It never registered. I could care less. Why do so many people care? It's no one's business what you do. I've always felt that way and I've always had a strong belief about that -- that it's your preference, and so what? You can like who you choose to like, and you can love who you choose to love. That's the way it should be. The thing that should be celebrated is that two people love each other, and that's a good thing."
Rivers acknowledged the months ahead may not be easy for Collins. In the bigger picture, however, he saw this announcement as a good thing for his former player.
"It's funny, in some ways I'm happy for Jason," said Rivers. "I can't imagine trying to be something, and then try to be something else. I'm happy for him."