He is the NBA big man who never backed down from anyone. Not Dwight Howard, not Ben Wallace, not Alonzo Mourning. Not even Shaq.
When Jason Collins takes the basketball court, he punishes opponents. He's skilled, with a measure of talent, but takes particular satisfaction in playing rugged defense.
His greatest attributes, though, are his stoic demeanor and toughness.
That toughness is exhibited with Collins' revelation in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated announcing that he, a 12-year NBA veteran, is gay. This not only paints the 7-foot center as a pioneer but shatters beyond debate the male homosexual stereotype.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, flamboyant or "soft" about Collins' game.
Or about his decision to go public as the first active openly gay male athlete in a major American sport.
This took guts, even if Collins is a 34-year-old free agent.
This took courage, even if he knows his career is in its final stages.
By willingly choosing principle over paper, conspicuous truth over guarded lie, Collins is placing his feet in the uncharted waters of American sport. He is, as a free agent, the first man to dare a major sports team to welcome an openly gay athlete.
He follows, though at a much more perilous level, the example of Warriors president Rick Welts, a longtime NBA fixture who two years ago became the highest-ranking executive in men's professional sports to acknowledge he is gay.
"He's somebody who didn't have the benefit of somebody going before him in the same situation, to learn, to watch, to see how people would react," Welts said Monday. "So it takes a man of great courage to do what he did. I'm happy for him, because he's going to be able to be the complete Jason Collins every day for the rest of his life."
I met Collins more than decade ago when he was at Stanford, a towering presence on and off the court. Now, with this cover story written with Franz Lidz, a former SI senior writer who now contributes to the magazine, Collins only grows in stature.
Let's hope this bit of truth initiates our overdue national conversation on this subject. We've spent years talking around the issue of male homosexuals in team sport. We've made halting, tentative steps toward acknowledgement. We've even had several former athletes come out -- but only after they retired -- as was the case with former NBA player John Amaechi, who went public four years after his last game.
Insofar as Collins only a few days ago was wearing a Washington uniform, playing spare minutes for the Wizards, this is a new and starker reality. And if he signs with another team in the coming months, he will represent the initial test case of its kind.
"He probably knows what he signed up for," Welts said. "He's going to face a whole bunch more television cameras and reporters than he probably has over the course of the last couple seasons. But clearly it's somebody who has given this a lot of thought.
"There's been a lot of speculation about when, who, how? That speculation has been put to rest now. We'll always remember that Jason Collins was the first player to do this."
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former teammate of Amaechi, is familiar with Collins. He spent three years on the New Jersey broadcast team while Collins was with the Nets and even knows Jason's parents through Southern California connections.
"I know Jason Collins. I know his family," said Jackson, an ordained minister. "I'm certainly praying for them at this time.
"He comes from a great family. He's a great guy."
We're going to presume Jackson is praying Jason's announcement doesn't place unwanted attention or undue hardship on the man or his family -- and not that he'll somehow wake up one day as a heterosexual.
In either case, the conversation truly can begin.
"We're lagging behind where our society is on this issue," Welts said. "And I think that to some degree, we caught up a little bit today."
Collins was a key member of two of the best teams in Stanford history, with 58 wins over his final two seasons. Those Cardinal teams spent time in both seasons as the nation's No. 1 team and in 2001 reached the Elite Eight.
Jason competed for only two full seasons -- he missed most of two others with knee injuries -- but commanded the middle with ferocity. Only the second Stanford basketball player featured on the cover of SI, he finished his career on the Farm as the school's all-time leader in field-goal percentage.
He'll finish his NBA career having appeared in two NBA finals and with his name attached to something of considerably greater social value.