A little over four weeks ago, Sports Illustrated senior writer Franz Lidz heard from a player rep that his client was ready to come out of the closet. Lidz didn't know who, but he let SI's editor, Chris Stone, know early on March 31, a Sunday, that something was afoot.
Stone and SI editor Jon Wertheim both wrote accounts today explaining how they got one of the biggest sports scoops of the year: NBA center Jason Collins is the first active male athlete in a major team sport to come out of the closet.
By April 6, just over three weeks ago, Lidz had scheduled a meeting with the player, for April 24, this past Wednesday. He had no idea who it was. Wertheim, Stone's No. 2 at the magazine, would travel with Lidz to Los Angeles to meet with the unknown player, as well.
There had to have been some sense of urgency. In late March, Mike Freeman reported that an NFLer was going to come out over the next few months; in early April, Brendon Ayanbadejo said that as many as four gay athletes were preparing to come out of the closet; two weeks ago, Kerry Rhodes was all but tossed out.
Lidz and Wertheim arrived in L.A. last Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, they found out the player's identity when they drove out to Collins's home. Their conversation with him lasted four hours and was the starting point for a collaborative effort between Collins and Lidz.
The story was a secret even within the Sports Illustrated newsroom. It wasn't mentioned in the magazine's weekly editorial meeting, on Thursday. "Incredibly hush hush," was how one source put it.
On Friday, Lidz (and his daughter, Daisy, apparently) headed back to Collins's home with a draft. Since the lead byline would belong to Collins, he had to sign off. Collins was sitting at his kitchen table with his parents, his twin brother (former NBA player Jarron Collins), and a high school classmate. Lidz's daughter was the one who suggested that Collins read it out loud. According to Stone, things got emotional when Collins read this part:
"... PRO BASKETBALL is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who's gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who's out."
After Collins, having choked up a half-dozen times, read those last words of his story, the kitchen was quiet for a beat. His mother broke the silence. "One thing I disagree with," she said. "Your aunt Teri is a superior court judge in San Francisco." There was laughter at the nitpick, then the happy silence of the very proud.