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At 9 a.m. last Friday the writer Franz Lidz (right) drove to the Los Angeles home of Jason Collins with a completed draft of a story on which the two had collaborated two days earlier. When he arrived, Lidz was introduced to Collins's mother and father; his twin brother, Jarron; and a high school classmate. They, along with Jason, would have final approval. As the group gathered around the kitchen table, Lidz's daughter Daisy offered a suggestion: Why not have Jason read the story aloud? And so he began:
I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay....
SHORTLY AFTER eight on Easter morning, Lidz, a senior writer at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED from 1988 to 2007, phoned me at my home. Representatives of an active NBA player, whom they did not identify, had told Lidz that their client was considering sharing, publicly, that he was gay. While no male athlete in the U.S. playing a professional team sport had ever come out, this was not entirely surprising news. The previous week CBSsports.com had reported that efforts were afoot to pave the path for closeted NFL players to go public. Former Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo gave further voice to that possibility during the first week of April, when he said that as many as four players were in discussions about coming out as a group. On April 6, Lidz called again. The player had agreed to speak to SI on Wednesday, April 24, in Los Angeles, a week after the end of the NBA regular season.
The player's identity remained unknown to Lidz until the agreed-upon date. He, and we, knew there was a very real, understandable possibility that the player could change his mind. Lidz and SI executive editor Jon Wertheim arrived in L.A. on the night of April 23. At noon the next day, they were directed to meet with Collins at his home. For four hours Collins shared his story with remarkable clarity, directness, emotion and humor (keyword: Shaq). There was a deeply moving note of graciousness too. To the pioneers before him, such as the tennis champion Martina Navratilova and the retired NBA journeyman John Amaechi, and to such straight advocates of gay rights as Ayanbadejo and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, he told Lidz, "The words thank you aren't enough."
There will be dialogue, plenty of it, in the coming days and weeks and months, about Collins's story as a watershed moment. And it is. In S.L. Price's piece, which begins on page 41, athletes and others address the inevitable comparisons with the bridges soldered by Jackie Robinson. Tennis great Billie Jean King, 69, says, "This has been one of my prayers." There are many others who have and will have something to add—Collins's speed-dial friends Bill Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, to name two. None will speak more powerfully, not this week, at least, than Jason Collins. His message, though, is not that of the bearer of a battle flag. It is far simpler. His words on the cover say it all.
... PRO BASKETBALL is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who's gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who's out."
After Collins, having choked up a half-dozen times, read those last words of his story, which begins on page 34, the kitchen was quiet for a beat. His mother broke the silence. "One thing I disagree with," she said. "Your aunt Teri is a superior court judge in San Francisco." There was laughter at the nitpick, then the happy silence of the very proud.