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Hawks stunned

Collier's death leaves organization in state of shock

Posted: Saturday October 15, 2005 3:04PM; Updated: Saturday October 15, 2005 6:22PM
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Eric Collier
Hawks general manager Billy Knight described Jason Collier (above) as a "great member of the organization."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The news of Jason Collier's death has left the Hawks' organization devastated, according to GM Billy Knight.

"Jason was a great guy," Knight said Saturday, shortly after informing Hawks players and coaches of the sad news. "He was a great teammate, a great member of the organization. He'd do whatever he was asked from a community relations standpoint.

"This has nothing to do with basketball. Jason was a friend, a family man and a first-class person. We're going to miss him."

Knight met with his players early Saturday morning after they arrived at Philips Arena for a scheduled practice. He and coach Mike Woodson addressed the squad in a "very somber" locker room, in the words of a Hawks official who was present. Hawks forward Al Harrington, who shared locker space with Collier, was said to be particularly upset.

"Everybody took it hard," Knight said. "We're all still shocked. It's not something you can prepare for."

Collier's death, possibly to a heart attack, is sure to renew the debate about the Eddy Curry situation. Ironically, the Hawks were one of the teams that pursued Curry as a free agent during the offseason before deciding his heart issues made him too much of a risk. Knight declined Saturday to speculate on the cause of Collier's death, but said the Hawks were not aware of any heart problems or health issues for the 28-year-old 7-footer.

"Jason was completely healthy as far as we knew," Knight said. An autopsy is expected soon, a team official said.

For now, the Hawks are too busy grieving to think about anything other than Collier and his wife and 1-year-old daughter. The former Georgia Tech star might not have been the biggest name on the roster, but he was a big part of the team. He was the longest-tenured Hawk, having signed as a free agent in 2003, and was considered a willing ambassador for the organization.

Last week he took new teammate Jonathan Edwards under his wing, according to Knight, helping the 24-year-old and his family get settled into their new Atlanta area home. He was also scheduled to give the pre-game greeting for fans at Saturday's open scrimmage.

"Yesterday we asked him to give the welcoming statement, to greet the fans," Hawks VP of media relations Arthur Triche said. "He said, 'Yeah, sure.' ... He gladly accepted it. That's the kind of guy he was, always willing to do whatever was needed in the community or for the organization.

"Right now, it's a feeling of total devastation. Nothing in the world can prepare you for something like this."