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April 30, 2013

NBA journeyman comes out

NORMAN — Jason Collins nearly got Rick Welts into $200 worth of trouble.

Welts is the president of the Golden State Warriors, and is gay. And a short while before the news broke Monday that Collins would become the first active player from one of the four U.S. major pro sports leagues to come out, someone called Welts to give him a heads-up about the pending announcement.

Small problem: Welts was driving, and not using a hands-free device that California law dictates. He got pulled over but, Welts said, was let out of the costly ticket after telling his story to the California Highway Patrol officer.

“Thanks, Jason,” Welts said afterward.

Collins was thanked and applauded by virtually all sides of the sports world Monday when the first-person account of his life was published by Sports Illustrated.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke of Collins’ courage, tennis great Martina Navratilova called him a pioneer, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared him to Jackie Robinson.

Perhaps no one was more succinct than Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, who simply tweeted, “The time has come.”

Support freely flowed Collins’ way, mainly through social media, with players from all four major sports reaching out to offer congratulations, support or both. Even the entertainment world reacted, with actor Neil Patrick Harris, who came out in 2006, thanking Collins.

“Thanks for stepping up. For standing tall. And at 7 feet, that’s saying a lot,” Harris wrote.

Collins will be a free agent this summer. However, after averaging a mere 1.1 points in 38 games for the Celtics and Washington Wizards this season — and after scoring 10 points just one time since Jan. 2, 2008 — it remains to be seen what sort of interest the 34-year-old center will generate from clubs.

“He exemplifies everything we look for in players,” said Billy King, the general manager of the Nets franchise that Collins spent his first 61⁄2 seasons with when the team was in New Jersey.

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