Years from now, people will be talking
about where they were when they heard a former standout Cardinal athlete decided to be
“I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If
I had my way, someone else would have already done this,” Jason Collins said in his Sports
Illustrated essay. “Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Nobody has, but I’ll be the first. Sounds like a maverick.
That’s not to say Collins’ accomplishments as a professional are on par with the
aforementioned names. If O’Connor were the judicial equivalent of a 3.6 points-per-game
center, I doubt Ronald Reagan would have tabbed her for the Supreme Court.
Amid the praise and scrutiny of his decision to come out, Collins should be noted for his
basketball abilities. The first openly gay, active athlete in U.S. major professional sports
history is also one of the best hoops players in Stanford history.
Over 12 seasons, he’s played in 713 career regular-season NBA games. Among Cardinal
alumni, only Brevin Knight (729) has more experience.
With Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson leading the way, he helped the New Jersey Nets
win the Eastern Conference his rookie year and joined a short list of
Stanford products with NBA Finals experience. Beyond Adam Keefe and Mark Madsen,
you have to go way back to Jim Pollard (Minneapolis Lakers) and George Yardley (Fort
Wayne Pistons), in fact.
But those professional highlights have nothing on the kind of glory Stanford fans envisioned
when Jason and twin brother Jarron Collins declared their college intentions. Once upon a time,
Jason Collins’ biggest announcement was that he wasn’t going to UCLA. The Pac-10
balance of power shifted directly in the Cardinal’s favor once the Collins clones, the
pride of Harvard-Westlake School, headed north.
It all seemed like it would culminate in something truly remarkable by 1999-2000, when
Stanford earned the program’s first No. 1 ranking as the pair finally played a full season
together (injuries curtailed Jason’s first two years).
That 2000 season offered a glimpse into the college basketball future. With high school
stars filling NBA rosters, great teams existed only in record books as NCAA
Tournament results shredded experts’ brackets like a woodchipper.
What if you heard, back then, that the Final Four would include two No. 8 seeds and a school
known more (at the time) for SEC football? That a 2000 Rose Bowl participant would
punch its ticket? You couldn’t help but envision Stanford, with Collins leading the
nation’s best defense, collecting a national championship.
But it wasn’t meant to be, not after Casey Jacobsen, Madsen and the Collins twins
combined for a measly 22 points against North Carolina in round two. The stage was set for the team’s high-profile members to achieve something great, just not a
showdown against Mateen Cleaves.
Madsen now is an assistant coach at Stanford. By 2004, point guard Michael McDonald
appeared prominently in an NCAA ad campaign whose tagline now applies perfectly to a
“Almost all us are going pro in something other than sports.”
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