Jason Collins is probably done with professional basketball. And he should be.
Let him tell it: he's still undecided about attempting a return for his 14th NBA season. And he does have some interest in becoming a coach or joining a front office. But right now, he is already fulfilled and has never been more relevant to the sports landscape.
Collins, the first openly gay player in major pro sports, is thriving as an ambassador for acceptance and peace. After existing in a world girded with overt machismo and sexism, Collins' best role is clear. He can lead professional athletes from the dark ages and inspire a population of hurting young people.
That's more useful than the 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds he contributed to the Brooklyn Nets on the back end of last season.
"I used to be able to jump and touch the top of the white square behind the rim with ease," Collins, 35, told the crowd of nearly 600 that gathered Monday night at San Francisco's Castro Theatre for the latest INFORUM conversation.
"As the years go by, you watch your hand go lower and lower on that square. Father Time is undefeated against us all. ... I'm really grateful for my Stanford degree now. On the other hand, I can still dunk."
Many athletes struggle with life after sports. Collins is well into his next stage despite not having officially hung up the sneakers.
More than ever, Collins is in his wheelhouse. He has always stood out because of his height and skin color. He has always fit in because of his personality and intellect.
Now he has a story to tell, and some NBA credibility to make people want to hear it.
He got a shout-out from President Obama in the State of the Union. He had a sitdown with Oprah, and he got a cameo in a Katy Perry video. He's a sought-after motivational speaker; later this month, he'll appear on CNN to discuss the role of pro athletes in effecting social change.
And the endorsement money he's securing, including a deal with Nike, is likely to surpass the money ($2 million) he could make as an NBA player next season.
Size is always a desired commodity in the NBA, and Collins stands 7-feet tall and 255 pounds. But he is needed more on the speaking circuit, in schools, at the tables where decisions are made. He can use his experience and celebrity to tout equality, education, health and fitness, sustainability messages he has been spreading with effectiveness since he announced his sexuality in May 2013 on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Monday night, Collins recounted his experience at a recent NBA seminar to introduce rookie players to the league. While discussing the need for a change in locker-room language, a player's question let him know how much work remains to be done.
"I had to explain what LGBT stands for," Collins said.
That drew a gasp from the crowd, followed by some snickering at the ignorance of it all. Collins didn't take the bait. He responded as a leader should. "It's all about education and exposure," he told the crowd. "Some guys have had no education and exposure to the LGBT community."
Collins isn't just advocating for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. He's championing opportunity for the underprivileged, encouragement for the broken, better eating habits for kids.
Sure, he could return to the paint to collide with the Dwight Howards of the world. He can contribute 7.8 minutes per game, as he did last season, and serve as an example of professional for a team's youngsters.
But he can make greater impact elsewhere. And he knows it.
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Marcus Thompson II: Jason Collins finds his next team
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