He not only was an outstanding basketball player but also a towering presence on and off the court.
And now Jason Collins, nearly 7 feet tall, has only grown in stature.
Collins, whom I covered more than a decade ago while he was at Stanford, went public this week as the first active openly gay male athlete in a major American sport. The Washington Wizards' backup center came out in a Sports Illustrated feature written with Franz Lidz, one of the magazine's writers.
Let's hope this bit of truth initiates our overdue national conversation on this subject. Oh, we've spent years talking around the issue. We've made halting, tentative steps. But now that the reality is upon us, the
Collins and his twin brother, Jarron, were key members of some to the best teams in Stanford history. With Jarron was at power forward and Jason at center, the Cardinal averaged 28.5 wins per season from 1998 through 2001 -- including its first ever No. 1 national rankings in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Jason Collins was the center of it. Only the second Stanford basketball player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Jason competed for only two full seasons -- he missed most of two others with knee injuries -- but commanded the middle with defensive ferocity. He finished his career on The Farm as the school's all-time leader in field-goal percentage.
I have particularly fond memories of Collins and his 2000-01 teammates, who forged an unforgettable win over St. Joseph's in the NCAA Regional in San Diego. St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli raved about Collins, referring to him as a future lottery pick.
He was, instead, taken 18th overall in the 2001 draft.
Collins will finish his NBA career with something of considerably high social value, which ought to make his old school proud.
Collins is 34 years old, near the end of his pro career. He is not an NBA star, which will make it easier for a franchise to shed him from its roster for legitimate basketball reasons. So it took courage to make this announcement.
And here he is again once again, back on the cover of SI, this time blazing a very sensitive trail.
Consider it one giant step for Jason Collins and an even larger sacrifice for others.