MIAMI — Having a body covered with tattoos, a Mohawk and his “Birdman’’ nickname, Chris Andersen said he has been viewed in his career as being different.
That’s why the Miami Heat center on Tuesday spoke of a parallel about his situation and center Jason Collins having revealed in a Sports Illustrated article he is gay.
“It’s tough,’’ Andersen said of being viewed as different. “But having tough shoulders and a tough mind to carry that load takes a very, very special person. Being in my situation, I just overpowered all the thoughts and all the criticisms that I got from fans and non-fans. So he’s probably going to go through a lot of criticism, but he’s getting a lot of praise as well. And he’s definitely got my backing.
“I’ve been criticized and burned, so to be back in the limelight of things it was tough to first get my foot in the door and get in front of the cameras (after signing with the Heat in January). But for him to come out and say this is how he feels and this is who he is, I commend him on that …. I got my supporters just like he has his supporters. So I know he’s going to have a tough road. But I think he’s on the right part of state of mind that he’s going to be in, and he’s going to be a tough leader.’’
Andersen was among a half-dozen Heat players and coach Erik Spoelstra who spoke after a Heat practice about the decision by Collins to come out in an article that was posted online Monday and will be in Sports Illustrated’s May 6 issue.
Collins, 34, is the first male player active in the one of the four major U.S. sports to reveal he’s gay. But it’s not out of the question Collins, who will be a free agent after finishing this season with the Washington Wizards, might not again play in the NBA due to being an aging and marginal player.
Miami guard Dwyane Wade tweeted his support for Collins on Monday, although Wade wasn’t available Tuesday for an interview after being limited in practice due to a sore knee. Forward LeBron James didn’t tweet anything because he has made a vow not to be on social media during the playoffs. If James were on Twitter, he said he would have sent a message supporting Collins.
“I think it’s very noble on his part,’’ James said. “I think it’s a strong thing to do. And as NBA players, we’re all one family and we support him.
“None of us should go around wondering what other people think we should be as human beings …. And I got the utmost respect for Jason and for whatever he wants to do …. Our sport is if you can play the game, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.’’
Guard Mike Miller is the only Heat player ever to have been Collins’ teammate, having been with him on the 2008-09 Minnesota Timberwolves. Miller was the only active player mentioned in the Sports Illustrated article, with Collins telling of once going to Miller’s house to buy a dog from him.
“If he’s happy, that’s all that matters,’’ said Miller, who recounted having sold Collins a German Shepherd puppy. “He’s a great teammate, and that’s all that matters …. I was happy to be a teammate of his …. Awesome person to be around.’’
While Heat forward Shane Battier never has been a teammate, he has known Collins for more than 20 years. He remembered how Collins and his twin brother Jarron Collins, a former NBA center, were both 7-footers when they were 13 and growing up in Southern California.
Battier plans to reach out to Collins, a 12-year veteran, who has played for the Nets, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards.
“I support Jason and applaud him,’’ Battier said. “I can only imagine how difficult the decision was to make, that decision to come out. He knows the consequences, but I’m proud of him. Jason is an outstanding guy …. I will just tell him that there’s guys in the league, his brothers, who support him …. In this day and age, it takes a lot of mettle to do what he did.’’
Collins wants to play in the NBA again next season. Spoelstra said Collins’ revelation he is gay would not have a bearing on whether the Heat look at him in free agency.
“I don’t think that would be an issue,’’ said Spoelstra, who supports the decision Collins made. “Teams are selfish, particularly a good team. If he can help a team win, that’s the bottom line.’’
That was a prevailing theme on the Heat.
“You can be from Mars and, if you help us win games, you’re all right with me,’’ Battier said.
Center Chris Bosh, who supports Collins, said he wouldn’t treat Collins any differently if he meets up with him again in the NBA.
“Just treat him normal,’’ Bosh said. “He’s a human being, and it’s not like he has two heads or anything. Same dude. So say, ‘What’s up?’ Everything is normal.’’
Guard Ray Allen shared that perspective.
“I’m happy that he’s happy for who he is and confident enough to be secure in himself,’’ Allen said. “I still think it’s no big deal. What people do in their lives is what they do.”
Collins’ decision comes six years after former NBA center John Amaechi wrote in a book four years after his last NBA game that he is gay. Battier hopes Collins’ revelation can pave the way for others and said that “hopefully our society is getting more tolerant of everything.”
One example of progress being made is how former Heat guard Tim Hardaway, now a scout for the team, has changed his tune since Amaechi’s 2007 announcement. Hardaway had said then, “I hate gay people.’’
“I’m happy for him,” Hardaway, who now supports gay rights, told the Palm Beach Post about Collins. “I know he hid it for a long time, but now he doesn’t have to hide it anymore. He is who he is and everybody’s got to accept him for who he is.
“What I did say was terrible, and it was bad and I live with it every day. It was like a bully going to beat up people every day. … They’re people just like we’re people. Let them live their lives just like we live our lives.”
Hardaway retired from the NBA following the 2002-03 season. Collins had joined the NBA the previous season with the New Jersey Nets.
Andersen also entered the NBA as a rookie in 2001-02. Playing the same position as Collins, he often has battled him, and he lauded the big man for his “physical” play.
“Hopefully, it does show other people that he is different and that it’s OK for other people to be different as well,’’ Andersen said of Collins’ announcement. “Like he said (in the article), he raised his hand …. He’s doing it the right way. He’s being positive. For him to actually come out and say it without having rumors lurking around. For him to step up and take full responsibility and to show the world this is who he is, it’s a big step, a very big step.’’