How Glen Davis Opened the Door for the NBA’s First Openly Gay Player


Some say a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a hurricane in the United States. While no one will ever confuse “Big Baby” Glen Davis with a butterfly, it’s hard not to appreciate the idea that the smallest unrelated actions can have great unforeseen consequences. This is the story of how Glen Davis and the Orlando Magic played an integral role in the realization of the NBA’s first openly gay player.

Feb 12, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic power forward Glen Davis (11) reacts and points after he made a basket against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Collins came out in an interview with Sports Illustrated this summer. The 12-year NBA veteran wasn’t signed during free agency and had to wait throughout this season to see if an injury riddled playoff team needed a strong front-court enforcer. That wait paid off when the Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. On the surface, this looks like it has nothing to do with Glen Davis or the Orlando Magic, but look closer and you realize it does.

When does Glen Davis’ role in this story begin? It goes back well beyond the moment when the Magic bought out Davis’ contract. Maybe as far back as when he played for the Boston Celtics, before Dwight Howard implored the Magic to trade for him. It’s important to trace the origins of the story to figure out exactly how it’s all connected.

Davis was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in the second round of the 2007 NBA draft. His rights were traded along with Ray Allen to the Boston Celtics. They teamed up with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and coach Doc Rivers to win an NBA championship in Davis’ first season. That early success would seem to haunt Davis throughout his career as he was eventually traded to the Orlando Magic and truly struggled amidst a losing atmosphere.

Davis was immediately miscast in Orlando. Once Dwight Howard and Ryan Anderson left, Davis was expected to shoulder a heavy offensive load, something he did without conscience and without success. More distressing than his poor play was bad attitude amidst the Orlando Magic culture change.

He prickled at losing, with multiple on-court incidents and a very public meltdown at a motel at 3 o’clock in the morning this year. None of that history seemed to predict a future as an integral part of a massive social moment, but it was fundamental in setting the stage.

The Orlando Magic were clearly fed up with Davis but were unable to find a trade partner at last week’s trade deadline. His poor play and expensive contract scared teams away. Cutting their losses, the Magic bought Davis out, freeing up playing time for the younger players and removing the locker room problem. Now a free agent, Davis transformed overnight from an unwanted burden to a hot commodity.

Multiple contenders vied for his services, but the final decision came down to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets. Both were in desperate need of interior help but there was one key difference. The Clippers were coached by Doc Rivers, Davis’ former coach in Boston. While they never has a perfect relationship, that familiarity made Davis more comfortable.

February 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins (46) is greeted by head coach Jason Kidd and coaching staff during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With Davis out of the picture, the Nets still needed a big man. Here another player/coach relationship made the difference. Nets’ coach Jason Kidd played with Jason Collins for the Nets back when the team was still in New Jersey. They formed a strong bond and Kidd spoke out in support when Collins originally came out. After being rejected by Davis, the Nets found their man in Collins.

Another former teammate relationship may have played into Davis’ decision. Being teammates with Kevin Garnett can’t be easy, and the two of them had friction throughout their Celtic days. Garnett allegedly tried to recruit Davis this time around but stopped short of the full-court press. “Big Baby’s not my f—— valentine,” Garnett said, “I guess Baby’s a hot commodity right now.” Such prickly words may have reminded Davis of the rough times in Boston:

Now who knows if Collins would have gotten another opportunity to play in the NBA. Maybe the Net’s really would’ve signed him over Davis. Maybe another team would have (Collins also played under Doc Rivers for a year in Boston). Davis and the Orlando Magic don’t deserve credit for this milestone and history will soon forget the role they played in making it happen, but for now, for a moment, we can appreciate their impact.

What do you think? Is this the most absurd thing you’ve ever heard? If it is, I suggest you read some more (jk),but in all seriousness let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. One more magic? Sign up for our newsletter!