WALTHAM, Mass. — Jason Terry has no idea how Jason Collins will be received next season, either by his new teammates or by fans. All Terry knows is that he would welcome Collins back into the fold in Boston.
In fact, Terry would welcome him back right now, if that were possible.
“We definitely need his toughness,” Terry said on the eve of the Celtics’ do-or-die Game 5 against the Knicks. “I would love to have it in this series. He’s one of the toughest guys in the NBA.”
A day after Collins announced he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in major pro sports to do so, his former teammates on the Celtics unanimously declared that if Collins were to find his way back into their locker room next season, they would welcome him with open arms.
“That’s up to the organization, but I thought while he was here, he was a professional,” Paul Pierce said. “We need more guys like that. The way he carried himself, what he did off the court as far as in practice, he was one of the more professional players that you see. With us, he didn’t play much, but what you saw was a guy who came in, got his work in and didn’t complain about it. That’s what we need, more guys like him.”
Collins is a free agent, and some observers have questioned whether a 34-year-old center with minimal offensive skills will find an employer next year. Never mind that 34 is not that old for a backup center — he would be a spring chicken on the Knicks, and he is six years younger than the Heat’s Juwan Howard — or that Collins is perfectly at peace with his worth as a player, and that is to set screens and commit fouls.
The non-basketball-related reasons for a team to shy away from Collins do not hold much merit with Celtics coach Doc Rivers, either. The news coverage of Collins’ announcement was heavy on Monday and Tuesday, and there was a slightly larger media presence than usual at Tuesday’s practice to ask the Celtics about their ex-teammate. As far as being a distraction, however, Rivers does not see it that way.
“Every time he goes to a new city, somebody’s going to want to talk about it,” Rivers said. “There may be some guy in the crowd that wants to voice his opinion. But they voice their opinions pretty well when we’re on the road, anyway. It’s just white noise, at the end of the day. I’m sure, when Jackie Robinson went on the road, he heard it, but they all went away eventually. This will go away as well.”
Rivers, like the rest of the Celtics, dutifully answered multiple questions about the event’s significance and their reactions to the announcement. Still, they kept coming back to Collins’ value as a teammate, and how willing they would be to have him back, if things worked out that way.
“He showed me what it takes to be a pro,” Jeff Green said. “I’m young. This is only my fifth year. When you have a veteran like him who comes to work every day and does his job, that’s all a coach can ask. It’s something a young guy looks up to.”
Now, Green looks up to Collins in more ways than one.