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Interview: Basketball star Jason Collins visits Wimbledon

Basketball star Jason Collins at Wimbledon
by Nick McCarvel
Tuesday 1 July 2014

NBA basketball star Jason Collins paid a visit to Wimbledon to watch his good friends the Bryan brothers, fellow Stanford alumni, in action. He sat down with Wimbledon.com to talk about his first visit to SW19... 

The welcome for US basketball star Jason Collins for his first-ever day at Wimbledon was appropriate: it was raining.

“Isn’t that how your first day at Wimbledon should be?” The NBA player asked, laughing. “There’s a minor fiasco with our tickets and there’s a rain delay, so I feel like that was a proper welcome!”

It’s hard for the 35-year-old basketball veteran not to stand out in a crowd: He towers at seven feet tall and has a big, beaming smile. He made himself more noticeable in April of 2013 when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as the first man on a major US sports team to come out as gay.

The Stanford alumnus has been lauded for his courage by President Obama, various fellow basketball stars and a collection of tennis stars, including Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, who attended Stanford alongside Collins.

It was the Bryan twins who invitied Collins to Wimbledon on Monday, the Americans having a special connection with Jason because he’s part of a twin duo, as well, with brother Jarron.

Jason sat down with Wimbledon.com to discuss his love for tennis, which basketball star could be a tennis player and more.    

Wimbledon.com: Tell us about your experience on the tennis court. Are you a player?
Jason Collins:
I love tennis. I just joined my third tennis league. My tennis game is OK. I have a great serve as you can imagine and my forehand is good. Since I’m such a huge fan of Rafael Nadal, I put heavy topspin on my forehand.

Wimbledon.com: It sounds like you’re a John Isner-Rafa hybrid.
There you go! That would be one heck of a player. I’m a doubles guy though. Unless I’m playing against my brother [Jarron]. We usually play twice a year. I beat him in three sets which was disappointing because it should have been a straight-sets victory for me.

Wimbledon.com: Sounds like a healthy sibling rivalry. Did you guys play as kids?
We grew up playing as a family because it’s me and my brother and my parents, so perfect for doubles. I think I’ve played tennis for as long as I played basketball. My parents played a lot. My mom still plays tennis with her group of friends.

Wimbledon.com: So you went to Stanford at the same time as the Bryan brothers, you playing basketball, them tennis, is that right?
That’s right. I never watched Bob and Mike at Stanford, but a few years ago I went with my brother to one of the Bryan brothers’ matches at the tournament that used to be in Los Angeles. They didn’t know we were there, but we were trying to get their attention. As a professional athlete, there are certain things that if someone says, it’ll break my concentration. So we said, “You guys aren’t the best twins to come out of Stanford,” and they looked at each other, then turned around and saw us. We all laughed. We’ll let them have the title of Stanford’s best twins. They’ve had so many accomplishments, including their Olympic gold medal that they won here.

Wimbledon.com: Your coming out story was historic in many ways. You received a lot of public support from Martina and Billie Jean thereafter, too.
The way that I came out, I controlled my own story. For Billie Jean, she didn’t have that option. She’s so amazing. We need people like that to clear the path. Any member of the LGBT community that comes out and lives an authentic life, they keep the conversation going and give examples of being a positive person and that makes it better for the next person. Billie Jean and Martina and so many other LGBT athletes have made it possible for me.

Wimbledon.com: The football player Robbie Rogers had come out just a few months before you, the two of you really being the first male US athletes to do so before they retired.    
Before Robbie Rogers and myself, for male athletes, it was an approach of waiting a couple of years and then coming out. For Robbie and myself, we decided not to do that and now you’re seeing athletes like [NFL player] Michael Sam and [college basketball player] Derrick Gordon. It’s great to see more and more people not afraid to live their authentic life.

Wimbledon.com: Do you think there will be a time when a men’s tennis player comes out?
I do think it will happen in men’s tennis. It’s going to make more and more people coming forward, brave people. After that, it’s about realizing that when they do come out, it’s just the same after. Yes, there is more media attention in the beginning, but there is a press cycle: they’re only going to write the story so many ways. There was that bump for me for two weeks, but after that it was about my team and playing basketball again.

Wimbledon.com: Speaking of playing basketball, which tennis player do you think would have done quite well if he had taken a path to the hardwood instead of the lawns of Wimbledon?
Collins: I think Novak Djokovic with his movement would be an incredible basketball player. His quickness and his flexibility would make him a pesky, annoying defender. I would hate to be the opposing point guard bringing the ball up the court against him. He would guard you full court. I just would have to teach him the defensive slide, though I see him sliding on the court plenty.

Wimbledon.com: And what about a basketball star on the tennis court?
Well besides me [laughing]... I know a couple of players that play, but their form... they’re more athletes than tennis players; they could work on their fundamentals. But hey, if you had a guy like LeBron James on the tennis court, with his athleticism and movement and you teach him a little bit of form, he’s one of the most athletic people on the planet. He could excel in any sport.

Wimbledon.com: And who comes out on top in a twins vs. twins. You and Jarron or the Bryan brothers?
They would win in tennis and my brother and I would win in basketball. I think it would be closer in basketball, though. The twins vs. the twins! My brother is dead weight on the tennis court [laughing]. We would kick their butt in basketball, but on the tennis court, the worst part of my game is my return. Can’t say I’m confident about trying to return a serve at 100 miles per hour. 

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